Skip to main content

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

By News, Press Release No Comments


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 Foundation of Oklahoma to Host Sensory-Friendly Vaccine Clinics

By Healthcare, Press Release No Comments


The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to provide sensory-friendly vaccine clinics to Oklahoma residents with autism or other disabilities and their caregivers.  The COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children as young as five years old, as well as other adult and childhood vaccines upon request.

The following five clinics are scheduled for the summer of 2022:

June 23- Woodward County Health Department

June 28th- Oklahoma City-County Health Department

July 15th- Comanche County Health Department in Lawton  

July 22nd- FUNdamentals Therapy in Ardmore in partnership with the Carter County Health Department

July 28th- Crossover Health Services in partnership with the Tulsa County Health Department

Prior to each event, clinic staff will receive sensory kits and specialized training for autism and other disabilities sponsored by a grant awarded to AFO from OSDH. Patients will also receive gift bags containing resources and helpful items for families to use with their children when visiting other new and possibly stressful places in their communities.

“We look forward to hosting five statewide sensory-friendly vaccine clinics this summer and appreciate the support of the Oklahoma State Health Department. AFO’s clinics are designed to help individuals and family members feel more comfortable in a local health care setting that is both educated and equipped to accommodate special needs,” says AFO’s Health Equity Project Coordinator Chandee Kott.

Children that are a part of the CDC’s Vaccines For Children (VFC) program are also eligible to receive their back-to-school immunizations. To learn more about this initiative, visit

Image courtesy of

Media Contact:
Chandee Kott, Health Equity Project Coordinator
Phone: 1+(210)287-7522



Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Awarded Grant to Develop Autism Training for Employers

By Press Release No Comments

The Developmental Disabilities Council of Oklahoma (DDCO) has awarded the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) a grant to support its mission to increase employment opportunities for individuals with autism and other disabilities. AFO hopes to reach all four quadrants of the state of Oklahoma within the first three years of the project, effectively including and accommodating individuals with autism in recruitment, hiring, and employment retention.

AFO will develop, implement, and market a 4-part training series to raise awareness of neurodiversity and effective management practices for participating employers. The training will be certificate-based and include membership into a network of trained employers for future candidates to consider.

“Finding meaningful employment after high school is a major source of concern for families across the state. More than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education two years after high school, which is a lower rate than young adults in all other disability categories. By increasing employer knowledge of autism and other related disabilities, AFO seeks to decrease the number of neurodiverse adults who are unemployed or under-employed in our state,” says Emily Scott, AFO Executive Director.

“The Developmental Disabilities Council of Oklahoma believes in the vision of this project as it pushes us closer to our mission of advancing communities where everyone has the opportunity to live, learn, work, and play where they choose. Employment is one of the most significant ways to improve an individual’s quality of life. It enables individuals to contribute to society through meaningful connections and economic sufficiency. DDCO is proud to partner with AFO in this effort,” states Jen Randle, DDCO Executive Director.

Additionally, AFO will develop a plan and infrastructure to provide ongoing support to employers who complete the training series, including requests for workplace accommodations assistance, sensitivity training, and navigating unique employee situations.

NOTE: The public is being asked to help AFO with a needs-based assessment for this project. These surveys should take you no longer than 5-10 minutes (each) to complete and AFO sincerely appreciates your participation.

Survey for individuals, family members, and caregivers: 

Survey for employers: 

For questions or more information, contact Leah Harris, Project Coordinator, at


Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Launches Sensory Kits for First Responders

By Mental Health, Press Release No Comments

With support from local and national partners, the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) now offers sensory kits for first responders, businesses, and community organizations to better serve Oklahomans on the autism spectrum.

Research shows that sensory kits can effectively increase critical communication and comfort for individuals with autism and other special needs in new and high-stress situations. AFO’s sensory kits contain a weighted lap pad, noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses, picture communication cards, activity books, a notepad and pen, and several handheld fidgets for all ages.

AFO recently received several grants totaling $6,500 from Walmart stores in Norman, Moore, Mustang, and Newcastle. Executive Director Emily Scott credits Brandan Branum, General Manager of store #7294 in Norman, for helping AFO turn an idea into reality, “Brandan played a pivotal role in helping AFO get our sensory kits out into the community. I called his store last summer to request a single product donation, and he did us one better by sharing our story with his colleagues.”

Branum had one small request of AFO when the kits were ready, “I asked whether our store’s local police department could receive a kit. Many of our customers have a loved one with autism. I have a child on the spectrum, and my wife is an autism therapist. Anything we can do to help our local first responders better assist those with special needs is a good thing,” said Branum.

“After months of navigating supply chain issues and shipment delays, it was a great feeling to finally call Brandan back and invite him to help us donate kits to Norman Police,” said Scott. “We wanted him to see in-person what he helped kick-start.”

“We are grateful for the generosity of our community partners like the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma and Walmart. These sensory kits provide an additional resource for our officers when they contact individuals with autism or other special needs. Resources such as these are crucial for helping all individuals in need during an emergency or high-stress situation and the steps that follow. We hope to be able to expand the program and increase the number of kits in patrol vehicles and interview rooms moving forward to ensure an inclusive experience.” – Chief Kevin Foster

In addition to Walmart, AFO has received gifts from Baker Speech Clinic, the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma, MUDD Printing, and the St. Louis Cardinals for this project. The sensory sits are available for purchase on AFO’s website.


The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Receives Support from the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma

By Press Release No Comments

The Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma (MCFOK) has generously awarded $25,000 to the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) to help educate and provide autism resources to law enforcement professionals. This significant gift will help AFO provide professional development opportunities, interactive community events, and sensory kits for first responders.

A recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that 1 in 5 young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will be stopped and questioned by police before the age 21. Young people with autism and a serious psychiatric condition are nine times more likely to have an encounter with law enforcement. Other common contact scenarios may involve elopement, abuse or neglect, and accusations of suspicious behavior.

“We are incredibly grateful to MCFOK for supporting our efforts to keep autistic Oklahomans safe in their communities,” said Emily Scott, Executive Director of AFO. “This gift will provide law enforcement agencies with critical information and resources to improve outcomes at the scene of an emergency or mental health crisis.”

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

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma is a 501c3 nonprofit with a mission 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.


The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma Receives Grant to Educate Childcare Workers

By Press Release No Comments

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) recently received a $25,000 grant from Inasmuch Foundation to pilot a training program for childcare providers to support children with autism. Through collaborative partnership with Sunbeam Family Services, AFO will create an introductory training for childcare providers to better understand autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and connect families to local resources.

The role of a childcare provider is an important one for many families. However, 39% of parents of children with ASD report that childcare impacted their employment decisions. This is 7 times higher than that of families without children with ASD. In a recent Oklahoma needs assessment, it was found that 41% of parents of children with ASD depend on relatives for childcare and 25% of families reported that one parent had to cease employment in order to care for children.

“Awareness and identification are a key piece of improving access to early intervention services for children at risk for autism spectrum disorder. The signs of autism typically appear in early development and childcare providers can often be the first person in a child’s life to recognize key indicators”, said AFO Executive Director Emily Scott.

“We value the importance of community partnerships and this work with the Autism Foundation is an example of coming together to serve families of central Oklahoma,” said Sunbeam Chief Program Officer Paula Gates.

“Oklahoma children and families will significantly benefit from the Autism Foundation and Sunbeam Family Services’ collaborative training endeavor,” said Inasmuch Foundation Vice President of Programs Sarah Roberts. “Since early intervention can change a child’s developmental path and improve lifelong outcomes, this type of training is imperative for childcare providers in our state.”

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma is a statewide organization with a mission to improve the lives of Oklahomans with autism and their families. AFO’s programs areas address the lifespan, from early childhood development to workforce development and public safety initiatives. For additional information, visit

Autism in Indian Country

By Healthcare No Comments

AFO Board member and DEI Officer Dr. Crystal Hernandez was recently asked to submit a public comment for the upcoming Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) in regard to Autism in Indian Country. It is imperative to have services and supports that are culturally relevant for our various Tribal Nations throughout the United States, including the many Tribes in Oklahoma. With this public comment, there are hopes of true inclusion in decisions, funding, conversations, and action.

My name is Dr. Crystal Hernandez, I am an autism mother and ally, Cherokee and Latina. I serve as a Tribal mentor parent, serving on support groups and panels, working with local and national organizations on Tribal inclusion projects and research. I see and hear the stories of grandparents and parents, communities, and individuals struggling to find suitable service and varied treatment for their Autistic loved ones. I see continued disparities in access to quality care within communities, underrepresentation, and cultural exclusion. We must do better.
It is a pivotal moment in our world, where Tribal Nations are not just being looked at, but rather are starting to be seen and included. But there is still much work to be done. Autism in Indian Country is overwhelmingly underrepresented in national and state data, due to non-inclusive methods of measurement and often distrust of the measuring systems.
We must focus on improving culturally relevant diagnostic tools and screening instruments and train in meaningful ways, those working within the field on cultural humility and responsiveness. There needs to be a focus on embedding appropriate culturally relevant screening practices in a variety of conventional and unconventional settings, such as health clinics, daycares, community centers, nutrition programs, head starts, and behavioral health care settings. A focus on community and extended family compositions in system build and design is desperately needed. We must change the narrative within communities and learn from those walking the journey. Representation matters in all the places where decisions are made, not just in theory, but in continued practice.
There is a great need to improve access to care in community settings, meeting the person where they are, removing barriers to treatment and support. We must look beyond gap analysis and instead focus on actionable items for a continued system overhaul. We need to allow culturally-rooted care to be viewed with the same fidelity and reimbursements that other mainstream treatments are. Giving honor to language, customs, beliefs, values, and practices is the only way forward.
The vast array of Tribal Nations throughout the United States is not here to be served, but rather is here to be part of building meaningful systems of service.
Thank you,
Crystal Hernandez, Psy.D., MBA

Learn more about the IACC at:


Suicide Prevention in the Autism Community

By Healthcare, Mental Health No Comments

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the urgency for autism inclusion is needed when discussing suicide prevention. Several studies have highlighted the disproportionate rates of suicide attempts and death by suicide in autistic adults and youth worldwide. Autism occurs in 1 in 54 children and 1 in 45 adults in America. This complex disorder is often coupled with various co-morbid medical and psychological conditions. Risk factors outlined in many studies include: camouflaging/masking Autistic traits in an attempt to be accepted and adhere to societal norms; co-morbid diagnoses (depression, anxiety, psychosis); barriers for accessing traditional mental health services, and lack of social support systems.

In honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, and it seems appropriate to take this time to share how suicide impacts the autistic community.

  • The suicide and suicide-attempt rate among autistic individuals is three times that of neurotypical (non-autistic) individuals. Some research demonstrates a rate that may be as high as nine times that of neurotypicals.
  • A 2014 study from the United Kingdom (UK) found that approximately 66% of respondents who held an Asperger’s diagnosis reported having had suicidal thoughts, and 35% reported having attempted suicide or having suicidal plans.
  • In the UK, Autistic people have an average life expectancy of 16 years lower than the national average. Suicide is a primary driver of this number among those on the spectrum without an intellectual disability.

Tom Taylor, an Autistic Self-Advocate and AFO Board member from Norman, Oklahoma, shared some personal insights to help shine a light on the need for inclusion in general suicide prevention efforts.

“As the autistic father of an autistic daughter, I look at my child, and I think about suicide attempts and deaths of Autistics. I also look at the differences between the autistic traits of my daughter and my own. It has been my experience that autistic people without intellectual disabilities tend to come in three primary categories. The first are those autistic people who do quite well in social situations and enjoy the company of others – these are autistic people who have cobbled together enough social skills to fake it in a neurotypical world. The second are those who don’t fit in with society and are either oblivious to this fact or simply don’t care to interact with others; this is the type my daughter is. I worry that she’ll someday care, but at this point, humans don’t interest her. The third type is those who want to interact with others and tend to do so poorly; this is me. I can fake social skills temporarily, but I spend a lot of mental energy worrying that I have inadvertently offended someone.

I have been in social situations with other autistic people where the conversation moved to talk about suicide, and the stories told were beyond troublesome. They spoke of their suicide attempts or their suicidal thoughts – and every one of us had a harrowing tale to tell about it.

The segment of society that encompasses socially inept people wanting to socialize is a group of people that also tend to have diagnoses dealing with depression. Going through life hoping to connect with people, find everlasting love, have children, and land a meaningful job are too often unfulfilled desires; our population often lacks the skills needed to obtain or keep these things in life others take for granted. Unfulfilled desires cause suffering, and suffering leads to suicidal thoughts or attempts.

To combat suicide in the autistic community, two initial steps are needed. The first is a conscious effort to include autistic people in our society. The second is autistic people need to monitor their feelings and reach out for help before their loneliness and depression consume them.”

We must continue to do better in building systems that are inclusive of diversity to reach all individuals needing support. Research continues to demonstrate a substantial need to engage autistic individuals in traditional and nontraditional mental health and social supports to enhance their quality of life and truly meet them where they are. There must be a continued effort beyond Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to address the preventative measures, policies, resources, and treatment in an inclusive way. There is a need to build additional protective factors for Autistics in all suicide prevention efforts.

This is the start of a much-needed conversation, and it is the hope that the Autism community continues to be included in all suicide prevention conversations moving forward. Every life is precious and worthy of love, health, compassion, and longevity.

Written by Dr. Crystal Hernandez, Board member and DEI Officer for AFO and Executive Director of the Oklahoma Forensic Center

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

By News No Comments

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.

Statewide Autism Nonprofit Expands Mission, Looks to Future

By News, Press Release No Comments

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO), formerly known as the Oklahoma Autism Center Foundation, has announced updates to their organization’s name and mission statement to reflect their commitment to serve Oklahomans with autism across the lifespan.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with the disorder.

Since 2011, the Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has aimed to improve the quality of life for children with autism and their families through program support for the Oklahoma Autism Center (OAC), a program of the Child Study Center at the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center. While this commitment remains unchanged, according to Executive Director Emily Scott, AFO has continued to grow concerned over a reported lack of opportunity and services for children with ASD as they transition from early-intervention and school-based services to adulthood.

“After a decade of supporting the OAC’s critically important early- identification and intervention programs, we couldn’t help but notice the number of families who would call back years later in a desperate search for services and support for their now a teen or adult. High rates of unemployment, low participation in education beyond high school, and a lack of community living options for adults with ASD are major issues for this community nationally and here at home. Oklahoma’s rural families can especially attest to this.”

To maximize their impact, AFO spent the last half of 2019 engaging stakeholders statewide to develop a 10-year strategic plan. From a series of listening sessions, professional interviews and a statewide survey, the organization began implementing their plan in 2020 with a new mission statement: to support the Oklahoma Autism Center and other initiatives that improve the quality of life for Oklahomans with autism and their families.

“As Oklahomans with autism make plans for a career, family, and future, they often encounter artificial barriers on the path to self-sufficiency,” said AFO Board Chair Ed Long. “We are committed to working with partners across the state to remove these barriers and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to live their best life. Whether we are talking about post-secondary education, competitive employment, or public safety, a simple lack of awareness and understanding may have tremendously negative consequences for so many of our neighbors for whom there are no real limitations.”

About Autism Foundation of Oklahoma

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma is a non-profit organization, qualified under Section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code and organized to support the Oklahoma Autism Center and other initiatives that improve the quality of life for Oklahomans with autism and their families. AFO’s programs provide education, advocacy, professional development, technical assistance, and family support for Oklahoma’s autism community and their families.

Media Contact

Emily Scott
Executive Director

Skip to content