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Understanding Disabilities in American Indian & Alaska Native Communities.

AFO board member Crystal Hernandez, Psy.D., MBA, worked with the National Council on Aging Inc. (NICOA) to update their toolkit “Understanding Disabilities: In American Indian & Alaska Native Communities”.

The toolkit — “Understanding Disabilities: In American Indian & Alaska Native Communities” — contains information about disabilities, tribes and resources. You will find suggestions for improving services, providing protections, and utilizing resources in local tribal communities for people with disabilities.

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Provides Autism Training for CASA in Ada

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Media Contact:

Carley Dummitt

Marketing & Community Outreach Coordinator

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma


Phone: 727-366-0947

[Oklahoma City, OK] – The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) is providing autism training for the 22nd Judicial District CASA in Ada, OK, on March 9th.

During the training, CASA volunteers will learn about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including the latest research, common characteristics, interaction advice, and how to utilize AFO’s sensory kits.

“At CASA, the children we advocate for have experienced trauma and may have other conditions such as autism. Learning as much as possible about the issues these children may deal with can help educate us on how to advocate for them more effectively. It’s often difficult for a doctor to diagnose a child’s behavioral issues because trauma, such as PTSD, and autism symptoms often mimic each other or are interconnected. It takes a deeper awareness of autism, types of trauma, and what triggers behaviors for a CASA Volunteer to make sound recommendations to the Court and DHS.”

AFO’s mission is to improve the lives of Oklahomans with autism and their families. The nonprofit provides autism training to professionals of all types in Oklahoma, including healthcare providers, childcare workers, employers, and justice system professionals.

“We are thrilled to partner with CASA in Ada to provide this training,” said Chandee Kott, Public Health and Safety Program Director for AFO. “Our goal is to provide education, resources, and support for individuals and families affected by autism. This training is just one way we can positively impact our community.”

For more information about the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma, please visit


The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Is Now Autism Certified To Enhance Services for the Community

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For Immediate Release
Media Contact Emily Scott, Executive Director, Autism Foundation of Oklahoma
Phone: 405.237.8390 | Email:

Oklahoma City, Okla. (January 24, 2023) The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has earned the Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) designation, which is granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). The CAC credential requires staff to complete an autism-specific training and certification program through IBCCES to ensure the team’s ability to meet the everchanging needs of autistic individuals.

“Becoming an IBCCES Certified Autism Center™ means a great deal to our organization. It’s given us a firm foundation of useful knowledge in the field of ASD and increases our credibility in the community with the professional development courses we provide,” said Emily Scott, Executive Director, Autism Foundation of Oklahoma. “We’d like to thank our partners at the Oklahoma State Department of Health for their support in helping AFO obtain this certification.”

AFO currently offers public safety resources to autistic individuals, including Project: Safe Stop event that allows drivers and passengers to practice safe interactions with police. They also provide free self-identification driver and passenger visors and wallet cards and a Resource Coordinator on staff who answers phone calls and emails Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

“It is an honor to partner with the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma to enhance their commitment to the autistic community with new tools, resources, and training,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman. “Our certification program will help the team enhance their knowledge and specialized services to better support the clients they serve daily.”

For more than 20 years, IBCCES has been a leader in cognitive disorder training and certification for healthcare, education, public safety, travel, and corporate professionals around the globe. IBCCES programs include evidence-based content as well as the perspectives of autistic individuals, alongside other resources, ongoing support, and renewal requirements to ensure there is continued learning and a lasting

IBCCES also created, as a free online resource for families that lists certified locations and professionals. Each organization listed on the site has met Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) requirements.

About Autism Foundation of Oklahoma
The role of the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) is to improve the lives of Oklahomans with autism and their families across the lifespan. AFO’s programs focus on Advocacy, Early Childhood, Justice System Reform, Public Health & Safety, and Workforce Development.

Committed to providing The Global Standard For Training and Certification in The Field of Cognitive Disorders – IBCCES provides a series of certifications that empower professionals to be leaders in their field and improve the outcomes for the individuals they serve. These programs are recognized around the world as the leading benchmark for training and certification in the areas of autism and other cognitive disorders.

See more at

Inclusive Employment Blog Series- Part Two: Unicorn Bias

By Autism, News, Workforce Development No Comments

Something that is often overlooked in the quest to find qualified candidates is the unconscious discrimination that can occur when unchecked. In this way, I propose that overly favoring experience when unnecessary could be viewed as a marker of discrimination. While there may be no legal repercussions for doing this, it is no less damaging to candidates, especially neurodiverse individuals. The reason is that it leads to exclusionary practices that favor the few but ignore the many.

To illustrate, I noticed that while discriminating based on a protected class, such as race or disability, is forbidden; there are other ways to accomplish the same “goal” while not being explicit. For example, a recruiter cannot deny a candidate because of skin color or disability but can reject a candidate who does not have “adequate” experience. This is why job analysis is critical when crafting a job ad because it can deter qualified candidates or eliminate them later in the process. It is important to note that the intention may be sincere, but the execution is the issue and what causes many candidates to be left out. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that experience is necessary for the position and not an afterthought or leftover from another job ad.

Next, I have spoken on some types of hiring bias that occurs in interviewing, but there is another that seems harmless but plays a big part in overlooking qualified candidates. That hiring bias is what I call the Unicorn bias and occurs when a candidate appears to be “perfect” and creates unrealistic expectations. To elaborate, I chose a unicorn because it is a mythical creature that does not exist, but the pursuit becomes the goal. In this way, the unicorn in this context symbolizes a candidate that nearly or very much checks every box that a recruiter is looking for. The issue arises when the pursuit becomes the goal and begins to cloud the recruiter’s judgment of reality at the expense of qualified candidates. No one is perfect, and the reality is that the vast majority of qualified candidates will not appear as unicorns and thus get overlooked.

I personally experienced this bias when I thought I had found a unicorn during an interview. This person matched almost all the boxes a recruiter could dream of and seemed easy to accept in the company. However, this person had lots of experience and should have been interviewing for higher-level positions, but they were under the impression they needed lots of experience to be considered. With this said, after seeing this “unicorn” with my own eyes, it was difficult to interview other candidates who were not as mythical as that. As discussed, it is important to reset after every interview and acknowledge challenges or issues with every candidate, no matter how extraordinary they appear. Another truth is that the likelihood of encountering another unicorn afterward is slim, and pursuing them will cause other candidates to be left out.

This unicorn bias is especially troubling for hiring neurodiverse individuals. After all, they will most likely not appear as unicorns because many of them need access to the kinds of experiences that are expected. Moreover, many neurodiverse individuals have unique needs and challenges that make it difficult for them throughout the recruiting process. However, the workplace comprises a vast and diverse group of people that are not unicorns but are still employed. Plenty of employees in workplaces today do not meet all or most of the checkboxes but are still employed, and some do better than they were at the time of the interview.

The key is to realize that “qualified” candidates cover multiple areas such as skillset, culture fit, previous jobs, volunteering, and attitude. Naturally, which is favored over others depends on the job and company culture. Also, notice that experience is only one facet to consider and that any other aspect will have pros and cons, depending on the job.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 

Inclusive Employment Blog Series- Part One: Experience vs. Qualifications Paradox

By Autism, News, Workforce Development No Comments

A major area of contention in the Talent Acquisition field is the role of experience and how valuable it is. Indeed, the very thing that can lead to finding the most qualified candidate in one situation is not always the best option. I call this the Experience vs. Qualification paradox because experience is often overvalued when in reality, it could be unnecessary.

Firstly, there are distinctions between experience and qualifications that should be noted for better clarification. Qualifications pertain to the skills, training, and education learned and help prepare candidates for future roles (LinkedIn editorial team, 2021). Experience pertains to work that has already been completed and showcases the candidate’s skill, knowledge, and abilities (LinkedIn editorial team, 2021). While these two definitions share many similarities, the differences are where the issue becomes noticeable. Notice that experience is the application of past work, while qualifications are the preparation for future work. The issue then seems to be that many roles are misclassified as entry-level when in reality, they are not.

The issue becomes more salient when we examine the pros and cons of qualifications and experiences. The pros of qualifications are that candidates can build their knowledge through education and many companies require or prefer specific degrees (Aspire Personnel, 2022). The con of qualifications is that education is not always valued/necessary and presents many uncertainties about how candidates will perform on the job. The pros of experience are that it shows a practical application of daily work and shows what qualities candidates exhibited in past work (Aspire Personnel, 2022). The con of experience is that previous experience is required and that tenure does not mean much if it does not apply to the job. The idea is to have a mix of the two, but that is only sometimes possible, and one or the other will sometimes be valued over another, depending on the situation/job.

Taken together, the question that needs to be asked is when is experience necessary for a job and when is it not? Unfortunately, many employers seem to favor experience like a crutch that should be mandatory in a job description or, at the very least, considered favorably. What we see are many employers placing experience on a pedestal regardless of the job type or position on an organizational chart. For example, entry-level positions usually will have experience prerequisites built into them that typically are unnecessary for the job. As a result, many qualified candidates are overlooked or removed because they still need to meet the experience requirement. The fallout for the candidates is the sense that they are not able to showcase their knowledge, skills, and abilities because they were not able to show them elsewhere. Likewise, the fallout for organizations is that they miss out on potential great fits because they did not meet the one fit that “mattered.”

The reasoning for favoring experience is sound but is shortsighted and devoid of risk. For example, a common reason for favoring experience is that the candidate has shown how they will react to situations and tasks on the job. In effect, it eliminates the risk of candidates being unable to perform the job, leading to greater productivity and lower turnover. The reason is that there is already evidence that the candidate can do the job and will perform well because they have done it before. However, where does that reasoning apply to an entry-level position where the goal is to get a foothold in an organization and build from there? In the future, the message becomes to get a foothold in another organization or show us what you did for someone else and then come with us.

Indeed, that line of argument is most applicable for more leadership and senior positions in an organizational chart where the consequences of the candidate being unable to do the job are most severe. For instance, an employee in a leadership or senior position needs to have experience because they are most likely overseeing other operations and need to see the big picture and how it relates to everything. However, the entry-level employee is usually placed in the “weeds” or the ground level where they have tasks to complete, and how well they do determines the operation’s overall efficiency.

Therefore, the consequences of “failure” or losing employees get progressively more severe the higher up the chain of an organizational chart. However, there is little justification for experience in entry-level positions other than the momentary loss of money for losing candidates. Admittingly, losing employees is a costly endeavor that should be minimized but is a reality of the workplace no matter what. The truth is there is still uncertainty for candidates with experience, and the same issues can still arise. Because of this, a thorough job analysis should be conducted to ensure what qualifications are helpful or mandatory, and especially check if experience is necessary.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 



Indeed Editorial Team (2021). Experience vs. Qualifications: Differences and Importance.

Aspire Personnel (2022). Qualifications Vs. Experience: what matters most?



Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Offers Gift Giving Guide for the Holiday Season

By Autism, Holidays, News, Parenting, Press Release No Comments


Autism Foundation of Oklahoma

November 22, 2022

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Offers Gift Giving Guide for the Holiday Season

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has partnered with local retailers to offer holiday gift suggestions for those with loved ones that have autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

From toddlers to teenagers, AFO’s first-ever gift-giving guide includes sensory-friendly and educational items available at Oklahoma City retailers The Learning Tree and Blue7. The guide also provides information about the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Cowboy Kids Club. The museum recently became the first certified autism center in Oklahoma through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), a certification AFO also recently received.

Emily Hayes, Early Childhood Project Coordinator of the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma, comments, “Finding the perfect gift for loved ones can be challenging. Here at the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma, we want to help support and guide families to find gifts that can be both functional and fun. The items in our gift guide can help promote motor skills, sensory integration skills, social skills, language skills, and daily living skills while also being a fun, innovative item for the gift receiver.

The guide’s categories include sensory-friendly items, gifts to encourage movement, cognitive stimulation, and daily living support. Specialists specifically selected gifts found in this guide to promote unique skills. Depending upon age, gifts might emphasize sensory integration exploration, gross motor development, teaching cause and effect, hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, strengthening fine motor skills, tactile exploration and support of speech, color recognition, math, and language activities.


About Autism Foundation of Oklahoma

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Oklahomans with autism and their families. AFO’s programs provide education, advocacy, professional development, and individual and family support across the lifespan.

Media Contact

Emily Hayes, Project Coordinator / (918)527-7722


Autistic Unemployment Paradox

By Autism, News, Research 3 Comments

The Paradoxes of High Autistic Unemployment Series⎯Part 1

There seems to be a paradox with Autistic unemployment because it should not be as big a problem in reality. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a paradox is a statement that seems contradictory but contains hidden truth (Merriam-Webster, 2022). Indeed, there are supposed safeguards in place to ensure that Autistic individuals are not discriminated against yet still face it. Autism Unemployment was approximately 85% in 2021, and research shows that Autistic individuals face higher unemployment rates and social isolation than other disabilities (Palumbo, 2021). The discrimination can largely be found unconsciously, which makes it more difficult to identify and prove its existence. However, there are several barriers that Autistic people face when interviewing for a job that affects both the interviewer and interviewee. In this post, I will offer some reasons why there is such a high unemployment rate for Autistic individuals and offer my personal reflections.

To better grasp this paradox, it is important to recognize its origin and the flaws in its implementation. Notably, Autistic individuals qualify to be included as a protected class under the classification of physical or mental disability and are therefore protected from employment discrimination (Longley, 2022). Important to note is that disability is not meant to be a negative connotation but a means of identification for legal purposes to offer services and protections. Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a disability as a condition that impacts or limits a person’s ability to perform tasks or engage in activities (Merriam-Webster, 2022). With this in mind, Autism does affect or limit a person’s ability to engage in activities or perform tasks, namely interviewing. The reason is that Autism primarily impacts social skills, communication, and self-regulation, which can bring adverse reactions in an interview setting where the expectation is, unfortunately social.

Speaking of interviews, recruiters are not exempted from criticism because they also possess barriers that can make it more difficult to hire Autistic individuals. Namely, there are two hiring biases that recruiters can encounter: the horn effect and similarity attraction bias. First, the horn effect occurs when a recruiter makes a judgment about a candidate over a negative characteristic that clouds their assessment of them (Alexandra, 2020). In other words, a recruiter can unfairly assess an Autistic person’s ability to perform the job over “negative characteristics” they spot in an interview. Second, the similarity attraction bias occurs when a recruiter favors a candidate that appears to be similar to them and others in characteristics (Alexandra, 2020). In other words, the recruiter could discount an Autistic individual for a job because they do not meet the “prerequisite social conditions” that other candidates can meet. With this said, both types of hiring bias could be impeding Autistic individuals because they do not appear to be the “idealized candidate” and are discarded. However, notice that none of these “reasons” for discarding Autistic individuals have anything to do with them having the ability to perform the job and thus is unconscious discrimination.

Overall, I have personally encountered and seen other recruiters succumb to these types of hiring biases, and the worst part is that there are more biases that further impede progress towards inclusion. For example, I recall fellow recruiters mentioning more about a candidate’s personal and social characteristics rather than their ability to help the company grow and thrive. As a result, these subjective measurements are not helping the company onboard a diverse portfolio of candidates when they recruit others like them or those who “fit in”. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the types of hiring biases and ensure that they are not being deployed unconsciously, and remember that the purpose of inclusion is not conformity.

Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives. 


Alexandra (2021). 13 Common Hiring Biases To Watch Out For.

Longely, R (2022). What Is a Protected Class?,discriminated%20against%20on%20the%20basis%20of%20that%20trait.

Merrium-Webster (2022). Definition of disability.

Merrium-Webster (2022). Definition of Paradox.

Palumbo, J. (2021). Why Autism Speaks is encouraging companies to hire those on the Autistic Spectrum.


Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Awarded Grant to Develop Autism Training for Justice System Professionals

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The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) was awarded a grant by the Oklahoma Bar Foundation (OBF) to develop training, resources, and expert guidance for Oklahoma’s justice system professionals. AFO’s goal is to assist professionals in better recognizing, understanding, and helping citizens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Oklahoma’s court system.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that individuals with disabilities, including autism, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than those without disabilities. Although researchers agree that most individuals with ASD are law-abiding citizens who are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them, they are still seven times more likely to intersect with the criminal justice system than individuals without ASD. AFO recognizes that judicial professionals may struggle with how to best identify and interact with autistic clients or citizens in the courtroom.

“The court’s understanding of ASD can make an enormous difference in various juvenile, family, criminal, and other court cases. Legal professionals need access to ASD education, resources, and advocates with autism knowledge and experience to better service and protect this vulnerable population,” says AFO’s Executive Director, Emily Scott.

“The training funded by the OBF will enable lawyers and judges to better understand and interact with individuals on the autism spectrum who need legal representation and appear in court. It will positively impact both the quality of services rendered and case outcomes as these individuals experience our justice system,” says OBF’s Executive Director, Renee DeMoss.

Additionally, AFO is creating a free justice resource collection for their website that will include on-demand videos, social stories, and a network of advocates to assist the courts with understanding the communication, social, and behavioral characteristics of ASD.

The first five trainings will be held at Workflow Commons (916 NW 6th St. Oklahoma City, OK 73106) on the following dates:
o July 26; 10am-12pm
o August 23; 10am-12pm
o September 20; 10am-12pm
o October 25; 10am-12pm
o November 15; 10am-12pm

For registration information, contact AFO Project Coordinator Leah Harris at

About Autism Foundation of Oklahoma
The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Oklahomans with autism and their families. AFO’s programs provide education, advocacy, professional development, and individual and family support for Oklahoma’s autism community. To learn more, visit

Media Contact
Leah Harris, Project Coordinator
1+(405) 237-8390

Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Receives a $100,000 grant from the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma

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The Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma (MCFOK) has awarded $100,000 to the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) for its Early Childhood and Public Safety programs. This generous gift will help AFO provide autism education and resources to childcare providers, law enforcement professionals, and emergency first responders throughout Oklahoma.

“In the last two years, AFO staff and volunteers have developed autism education for numerous professionals, including child care workers, law enforcement agents, and emergency first responders. Thanks to this significant gift from MCFOK, AFO will now be able to obtain the resources we need to launch these trainings statewide.”

“Not all persons on the autism spectrum can effectively communicate with first responders,” said John Logan, Executive Director of MCFOK. “We hope this grant will provide first responders, educators, and childcare professionals with additional tools to assist them in communicating with and responding to the needs of the autism community.”

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma is a 501c3 nonprofit that aims to improve the lives of Oklahomans with autism and their families across the lifespan. AFO specializes in providing education, resources, and program support for early childhood development, workforce development, public safety, and criminal justice reform initiatives. For additional information, visit

Autism Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol to be Held April 6th , 2021

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The 5th Annual Autism Advocacy Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol is set for April 6th from 9 AM to Noon. “Many Pieces, One Voice”, a virtual celebration and autism educational experience, is available to all who want to learn about autism policy and advocacy opportunities. A panel discussion with state lawmakers about the issues that matter most to individuals with autism and their families is slated. The panel includes Senator Carri Hicks, Senator Julia Kirt, Representative Jacob Rosecrants, Representative Randy Randleman, and Representative Collin Walke.

Other agenda items include the reading of proclamations, local and national legislation updates, and information on the state of autism early identification and intervention, transition from high school to post-secondary education and employment, and adulthood in Oklahoma.

April is World Autism Month and highlights the expansive and ever-growing effort to promote autism acceptance, inclusion, and self-determination for all, assuring that each person with autism is provided the opportunity to achieve the best possible quality of life.

This event is hosted by the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma,, Oklahoma Autism Center, Oklahoma Autism Network, Oklahoma Family Network, Arc of Oklahoma, Autistic Adults of Oklahoma, and Pervasive Parenting Center. Several state agencies, nonprofits, and service providers will share information, engage families, and educate lawmakers on the needs of Oklahoma’s autism community. Participants can register for virtual access at

Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self regulation. According to the CDC, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children and 1 in 45 adults across all racial, ethic, and socioeconomic groups.

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