How Autism Colors the Black Community

The women of the Colored My Mind documentary and organization talk about increasing autism awareness, early diagnoses and their proudest moments with their children.

Posted: 03/14/2013 09:00 AM EDT

Shannon Nash, Tisha Campbell, Donna Hunter, Sen. Barbara Boxer, LaDonna Hughley and Tammy McCrary in 2011. (Photo: Courtesy of US Senate/John Klemmer)

At the second public showing of their documentary, four women involved with the Colored My Mind non-profit organization, LaDonna Hughley, Shannon Nash, Tammy McCrary and Donna Hunter, along with the director of the documentary, Nia T. Hill, spoke of the difficulties and lessons learned in raising a child with autism.

The film, which won an award for Best Short Documentary at the Bronze Lens Film Festival in Atlanta, features Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood as the parents of a newly diagnosed son with the disorder.

“They are coloring our mind to their way of thinking,” says LaDonna Hughley, in the film’s trailer. “They are coloring our world to their way of seeing they are coloring our hearts to their way of being. It’s who they are.”

African-American children are diagnosed sometimes two years later than white children, according to research. From 2001 to 2008, autism rates among African-American boys has risen 91 percent. Today, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism, according to Autism Speaks.

Actress Holly Robinson Peete, whose 15-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, moderated the post-screening discussion where the women talked about early diagnoses, coping mechanisms and lessons learned from their children.

"It's been a journey raising a child with autism," Peete said. "My in-laws, I think just three months ago, said the word autism. There is a generational stigma that made it very difficult to start to accept. Now we have the diagnosis and we are moving on and in a proactive way.”

Peete and her husband, Rodney, started the HollyRod Foundation and are raising money to start a care center in Los Angeles for children and families affected by autism and Parkinson's disease.

Of course, the mothers are also proud of their kids. Hughley, whose son is 24, graduated college and is now dating. Nash's son, Jason, a high school freshman, likes to do laundry, even at 1 a.m. McCrary, who is Chaka Khan's sister, says before leaving for her trip, her son said, "I love you, mommy." And Hunter says she awaits her return home to her daughter, Alex, who is 22, and has a smile that could light up a room.

For more help autism, please visit Colored My Mind and Autism Speaks.

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