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It’s Not Easy Being A Black Single Mom Raising A Son With Autism

Human Interest

This is Afea's story.

When Afea Tucker gave birth to her son Amir, she was 19 years old. Her first child appeared to be a happy and healthy baby boy; that was until his grandmother started to notice signs that little Amir was not developing like her seven children were at 18 months old.


"My mom was the first to say, 'Afea, I'm worried about Amir,'" she remembers. "He wasn't responding to his name, looking at us, or lifting his head."

It wasn't until his speech regression that she too began to realize that something was wrong. "The red flag for sure was when he went into a nonverbal state and would no longer speak. Then one day he unlocked the door and ran away without saying a word. That's when I began the process of understanding more about my son's learning abilities and what I could do to make his life comfortable," Afea openly shares about her experience.

With her very supportive mother by her side, the mother-daughter duo began to look into resources that could help them with Amir's growth and development. Looking for answers, Afea began asking her doctors questions that could help her understand why her young son was not responding like most children his age.

"Finding out that he could hear just fine was confirmation that something unique was going on," she shared after having his hearing tested. With no clue what could be wrong, Afea needed answers, and Amir's pediatrician gave Afea a list of agencies to consider contacting for a developmental evaluation.

Wasting no time, after seeing one of the referred early childhood development agencies, Amir was evaluated and deemed eligible for speech and occupational therapy, yet he was never diagnosed with anything.

It never dawned on Afea that her son could possibly have autism. "To my knowledge, he had a developmental delay, that's all," Afea calls to mind. "I didn't even know what autism really was. The only thing that I could equate to that was the depiction of Rain Man because autism wasn't something that I learned about in school. I was never aware or informed about what it meant to have autism but professionals around us had a clue but said nothing."

It wasn't until Amir was three years old when a developmental doctor gave Afea the diagnosis that Amir had autism.

Like a piece to the puzzle, everything made more sense. Finally, with a diagnosis, the young mother tapped into her mama bear mindset that sent her on a mission to discover more about her son's condition. From reading books to tireless searching on Google, Afea began researching the ins and outs of autism. She also sought guidance from therapists, professionals, and specialists to get more answers. All this while being a single mom holding down a full-time job to care for her young son.

"I also attended parent support group meetings, but nothing I researched or read would prepare me for the life ahead of us," Afea recalls of the clarifying moment of her life.

In need of support, Afea signed up to participate with the Autism Speaks Walk so that she could connect with and learn from other people who were raising children with autism. "I was pleasantly surprised to meet and walk with families that were filled with positivity and support. It made me feel like I was not going through this alone. I tried to make it out every year."

Couresty of Afea Tucker

After attending several Autism Walks, she knew that she wanted to do more, especially for teens turning to adults. While holding down a demanding position as a K-8 teacher by day and hustling as a strategic communications consultant at night, for the love of her son, she founded the non-profit organization Au-Some Lives Inc., which offers social support for families with children, teens, and young adults living with autism.

"Our mission is to assist and empower autistic families by providing resources, social support, and opportunities to connect local families so that they can share experiences, information, and concerns about the autistic community," Afea proudly declares about the organization she created after feeling there were not enough support outlets for parents to share in their knowledge and experiences. "My son is 17 now, but not too long ago, people were not as informed or aware as they can be today. There were not many schools that catered to the needs of children with autism."

After being overwhelmed with calls from Amir's teachers, "at least three times a day," Afea found herself quitting her job and starting her PR agency while he was in school so she could dedicate her time to her son after school.

"I owe it to my son that I am a competitive, experienced, and skilled entrepreneur because working from home allowed me to challenge myself to be available for both my son and my clients, and arrange meetings that worked perfectly around my son's schedule and I did successfully."

Raising Amir hasn't been easy for Afea. Some days are more challenging than others, but they make the best out of their lives. "I learned to celebrate the milestones, every success, and moments of growth. He has accomplished more than some 'specialists' thought he'd ever achieved," Afea gleams with pure delight.

Despite how challenging it may be for some people with autism to socially interact and communicate, many enjoy companionship and having fun with their peers, and it all starts with goals. Afea sees this with Amir.

"One of the goals I listed for Amir was to tell me how his day went. Every day after school I asked him, 'Amir how was your day?' And after a year, he responded with the simple word 'good.' That one-word response was a huge accomplishment. Now we have moved past 'good' to what classes he had and [what he] ate for lunch. He started talking girls, which I wasn't prepared for, but nevertheless," she laughs.

Couresty of Afea Tucker

"Sky's the limit for Amir and I won't let anyone try to put a cap on what they think my son will be able to do based on a study or something they read in a textbook. You can't say everyone is different and then try to define and treat them all the same. I challenged the things I didn't believe in or weren't appropriate for my son."

Afea advises parents:

"There is no time for pity. Let your child know that they may be different but that they are loved. Children with autism need empathy, respect, and awareness."

As for her advice to parents seeking help, Afea wants to remind them: "You are not alone and there are some good people and organizations out there that want to help and genuinely support. Parent support groups are great places because you connect with people who have actually experienced parenting or caring for someone on the spectrum."

Moreover, Afea wants parents to feel comfortable taking their children out to explore. "Don't live in fear of other people's opinion. An opinion is just that, an opinion, not a fact. Try new things and let life flow. You never know when you'll have a breakthrough, so be patient."

"Amir's diagnosis made me strong, it made me an advocate because I literally had to be his voice for years. I also became an intensive skilled researcher because I spent hours looking into doctors, therapies, schools, research studies. Being a parent of a child with autism has built my character. I've become a bit more sensitive and compassionate."

To follow Afea and Amir's journey, check out her Instagram @its_ah_feeah.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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