Using a $20,000 Fellowship Grant to Raise Autism Awareness

When it comes to dealing with the challenges of autism, research shows that minorities face additional obstacles. It is estimated that diagnosis is delayed one-and-a-half years, on average, for minorities, although autism prevails equally across races. As a student in the School of Psychology & Counseling, Eric Williams is studying these barriers and taking action to help people with autism achieve a brighter future. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) has awarded him $20,000, as part of its Minority Fellowship Program. He’ll use the funds to tackle the topic and build a nonprofit organization to promote awareness.

“My passion for autism began when my identical-twin sons Carter and Caden were diagnosed at the age of three,” said Williams. “They are now 8 years old and, we commute one hour one way daily for them to attend a special school for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Over the years, I decided to take my experience and testimony with autism and try to support other families.”

Williams has served on several boards, worked closely with his sons’ school, and works as a clinician in a private practice. The experience has given him a chance to see the concerns of other parents who have children with autism, particularly parents of high school students. He says curriculum oftentimes doesn’t consider the desire of students with ASD to attend college, and statistics show 75 percent of people living with ASD are unemployed, despite a desire to work.

“The fellowship will be used to advance the cause of autism by increasing autism awareness and acceptance,” said Williams. “I plan to start a 501(c)(3) to enable solicitation for grant monies and donations. I think the smartest way to use the money is to create a vehicle for which additional funds can be solicited to support families affected by ASD, conduct research into the various life-stages of both individuals and their families, and advocate on behalf of those affected by ASD and their families for opportunities to be productive citizens.”

Williams says the professors in Regent’s Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral program have prepared him to be a researcher and advocate. He views autism as a gift to his family.

“In John 9:1-3 (ESV), it was stated that neither the blind man nor his parents sinned but that the works of God will be displayed in him,” said Williams. “My children’s ASD has helped me establish a more refined ear for God. And in doing so, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree from Regent. The faculty here have helped me to establish an improved professional identity as an educator, supervisor, researcher and advocate. I would have never imagined having children with autism nor obtaining a doctorate while raising children with autism. But I think that speaks volumes of the professionalism, flexibility and faith of the Regent faculty to admit me into the program and shape me according to His will in light of my circumstances.”

Williams presented in fall 2015 at the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina (LPCANC) conference on the topic “Autism: Caregiving for Caregivers” to educate counselors on ways to assist family members who care for those diagnosed with ASD. Additionally, he would like to promote more advocacy for community resources to eliminate that as a barrier for families.

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