Monthly Archives: January 2014

Comments Off on MN Lt Governor Will NOT Run Again with Gov Dayton – Time for a Minority MN Lt Governor? Why Not!

Alright, so if you follow Minnesota local politics then you know this by now. Yvonne Prettner Solon announced last week that she will not run with Governor Dayton as he tries to win a second term.

A little background; Mrs Solon is from Duluth and is a clinical psychologist by training. She was a state senator from Duluth and sat on Health and Human Services Conference Committee in 2010 when we first defeated the first bias autism policy with others help, such as Berglin, Lourey, Sheran, etc. (well, you know that story by now).
Anyway, I remember as this was my first time at MN State Capitol – Solon was one of the easiest to connect with. There is one sentence that she said to me as I begged her to vote fairly (I will vote no because there is not a thoughtful process behind this). I think I had one of those Oprah’s – Aha moments. Yes, it was not thoughtful, it was not inclusive and it was unfair and bias because it only wanted to help the haves while it left the have-nots. How cruel.
I was so impressed by then Senator Prettner Solon then when she announced she would join Dayton, I thought to myself – there is another good one now going to be diluted. Personally, I would have wished Prev MN House Speaker Margaret Kelliher (the first house rep to write letters for our cause who was such a sweet and focused person) won instead of Dayton. Needless to say, Gov Dayton won and here we are with no autism research and nothing done for autism in minority communities under his health department. 
Now, Prettner Solon said what we were probably all thinking that her and Dayton did not talk or connect much and he did not ask her to leave or stay. How rude Gov Dayton – really? I thought a gentleman always said stay. 
I for one am glad Prettner Solon made the decision to leave because I think she is so much better and much more thoughtful than Dayton. What you see is what you get with her. She can analyze an issue and come up with a fair and just answer. It is too bad that Dayton did not see what so many other Minnesotans saw. I wish her well and hope she runs herself for top of the ticket one day soon.
So what happens now, and who will run with Gov Dayton? There are three names that mainstream media likes to inject us with. Tony Sertich – my opinion not good, besides don’t we already have one iron range leader – Bakk. Then there is Sen Katie Sieben – not experienced enough yet. And, Tina Smith – oh god, heartless hammer who will bury all kids with autism alive. If you don’t know Tina Smith, you are lucky. She was the Chief of Staff for Prev Mpls Mayor RT and was called Velvet Hammer in Mpls City Hall. I like to call her heartless hammer at MN State Capitol because she rules that office with an iron fist that make Assad and Putin like toddlers. I kid you not. Smith has created Mpls to be the city with the highest Black unemployment rate, worst achievement gap between Black and White students and if she runs with Gov Dayton things can only get worse in Minn. 
Now, here is a thought – why not add the ticket a MINORITY PERSON. If these MN DFLr’s are sooooo progressive, sooooo moving forward, sooooo welcoming and yada yada – then why don’t they ask even Asst Majority Leader Whip Hayden to run as Lt Gov with Dayton? Better yet – how about Commissioner MN Dept of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey. If you met Mr. Lindsey then you know he is well qualified. Mr. Lindsey is reasonable, kind, smart, articulate, experienced, well liked, oh and a minority person. When you meet with Mr. Lindsey, be sure to bring a tape recorder because he will say so many things that you never thought of that are simply genius. Of course, there are plenty of other minority highly qualified Minnesotans. (Korbel, Edward McDonald, Cassellius, Bruggeman, Champion, etc) The goal should be the governors office and leadership to reflect Minnesota faces. It is TIME to be fair, diverse and inclusive at Minnesota Governor’s office with action and not just more words. 
Isn’t time for Minority MN Lt Governor Yet? Women had their chances. This is the time and the moment for a Minority person to be on the ticket. I read somewhere it has always been a tradition for a woman to be 2nd on the MN Gov ticket. Well, maybe it is time for a new tradition which is a Minority. If Gov Dayton who went to MLK celebration this year because it is election year and said equality blah blah really meant that then he should walk his talk & ask Lindsey to run with him. 
In other words, if minorities are good enough to vote for you Gov Dayton – then they must be good enough to stand by your side as your Lt Governor of Minnesota. You can’t just need their votes, you must also need their talent, advice and leadership. Make a bold and leadership move and pick fairly and make history Gov Dayton – Pick Kevin Lindsey to be your running mate in 2014. If you do, I might like you (ok a little) and might even campaign for you. Well – if you also add autism research to your real agenda not your talking points.
As usual, above words are my opinion and do not reflect any committee or agency.
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate

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Comments Off on Minneapolis Mayor Hodges Makes History in Hiring Staff – Yes, Really!

Alright, so if you follow Minneapolis local politics and maybe my last blog about Mayor Hodges then you understand things did not look rosy. In few short days, that has all changed and Mayor Betsy Hodges made history by hiring a Somali person from her campaign as….drum roll please…wait for it…….Senior Policy Aide!!! (There is a God)

I know when I first heard of this, I thought – OMG. They are finally getting the message of we work hard in your campaign and you treat us fair.  And, fair it was. 
Now, I just checked with the Mayor’s office today and they said they are hashing out some scheduling matter, but it is all real and the newly hired Somali person’s information will be posted online and press release will be done. 
His name is Abdirahman Muse, he also campaigned for Candidate Hodges and works/worked at SEIU Union. (not sure if he will still work there). SEIU endorsed candidate Hodges for the Minneapolis Mayoral Race early on. And from what I understand her current staff has a good relationship with SEIU leadership. 
Now, let’s talk about what Senior Policy Aide means and how that is different from Sen Amy K’s Somali staff who probably has more degrees than many of that office’s staff, but still has held the position Constituents coordinator for years now. And, Rep Ellison who is notorious for hiring Somalis as Constituents liaison which basically means – you will never move up and you are at your glass ceiling. 
By the same token, a policy aide is someone whose policy advice matters, whose ideas are taken into consideration and who is valued for their expertise and/or education. It also means – you are on your way through the ladder usually reserved for Caucasian MN DFLr’s. You think I am kidding, count how many African American Senior Policy Aides work for the MN Senate/House in both State and Federal level out of the tons employed. Policies are the meat of the bone, it is what separates the haves and have-nots. Good, equal and fair policies level the playing field so that all have a chance at a better life and better future for their children. This is the area that traditionally African American communities have been shunned out of. And, if the policy advisers reflect their voters then equal policies will most likely pass and implemented. 
This means Mayor Hodges surprised the crap out of me and made history by hiring fairly, inclusively and adding much needed diversity to her team. I mean what more can I say, other than you ROCK Mayor Hodges! or as they say You Go Girl!
Finally, Mayor Hodges made some tangible promises to our community during her visits to us which included autism issues which I will for sure be asking them to address it in the next several months.
Above words are my opinion and do not reflect any committee or agency.
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate

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Comments Off on 1/14/14 IACC Unanimously Approves 2013 ASD Strategic Plan

Yesterday, we had our full IACC (Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee) meeting at NIH Campus in Bethesda, Maryland where the committee voted to approve the 2013 National Autism Spectrum Disorder Strategic Plan. 

It was a complete in-sync vote because we debated and debated about every detail of this plan for weeks and months via phone and in person meetings. There are seven questions to this plan that deal from research to policy to services. Each question had a sub-group that met and spoke with experts in that field to get their take and the latest research of what we know and what more we need to know and recommend.
Some of the areas I was interested were services and policy, especially how do we get research of why disparity exist for minority children rather than does disparity exist. I think we have accomplished that as we have recommended in question five which deals with services research and policy. I also was interested in assuring not just outreach to services is culturally responsive, but autism intervention is also culturally responsive and luckily we have included that in question four which deals with interventions and treatments. There were really good other items as well that were fought long and hard by many autism parents and advocates such as folks from SafeMinds that made into the plan. I really thank these parents’ courageousness for pushing the fact that many autism children have medical issues in addition to behavior problems. GI issues such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc are associated with autism and IACC plan recommended more research. I really would like to thank TACA parents and advocates, especially Lisa Ackerman. Many parents like Lisa have pushed and asked IACC to recommend more GI research funding and now it has been recommended. Job well done Lisa and all of the other parents who daily speak for their children with autism. 
Now, no one gets everything they want especially with a committee this big and too many people representing many different government agencies and public issues. As a result, there were some items that I would have liked that did not make into the final recommendations. But the good thing about this ASD committee is we talk and debate everything in detail and in public by following the Federal open meeting laws or FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act) And, if I make my case and I am outvoted then so be it. Maybe next time, I will do a better job in persuading. This report as required by law will go to Sec of U.S HHS Sebelius and Congress. And, as many of you know the CAA (Combating Autism Act) which created IACC sunsets this year and has to be re-authorized. And as someone who advocated for this the last cycle which was extremely difficult hope that it gets a united front this time from the autism community.  I know autism community is hard to unite, it is complex and confusing but what happens when we in the autism community fight against each-other is that we confuse a very confused congress members. More on the re-auth of CAA as it gets closer.
We also had presentations and one of my favorite autism researchers from Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta came to present. Dr. Ami Klin talked about the ability of diagnosing autism at an early age of just few months. His presentation was amazing and very interesting. You can watch it online at IACC site if you want to see the detailed version. 
We also discussed the recent GAO report which stated some harsh criticism for IACC and many U.S HHS departments. Personally, I think we should not be mad at GAO – they are just doing what Congress asked them. I also think there are many autism parents that are not very happy with federal agencies and we need to recognize that and validate their frustrations. There will be an IACC public committee response to this report which is now being written and circulated. And, most U.S HHS agencies sent their own responses as well. And, as I said in this meeting, while I was advocating the re-auth of CAA back in 2011, there were many autism parents and advocates that did not want it reauthorized and complained to Congress which is how GAO was asked. Therefore, I think we need to not dismiss this report, but learn from it and above all hear and validate all autism parent’s concerns and frustrations. Besides there is always room for improvement in IACC and all Federal agencies that deal with autism. 
In other words, I look at this report as a positive criticism and a learning opportunity – my humble little opinion. 
U.S Department of Education – Promise Initative: This was really good for Dept of Ed to undertake. 
Above words are my opinion and do not reflect any committee or agency.
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate

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Comments Off on Federal IACC Meets Jan 14th 2014 @ NIH Campus, Bethesda MD

Federal InterAgency Autism Coordinating Committee met Tuesday Jan 14 2014, below is the agenda and my take will follow in the next couple of days. The National Autism Strategic Plan was voted unanimously by IACC which will go to Congress and the Administration including U.S Secretary of Health & Human Services – Kathleen Sebelius. 

IACC Full Committee Meeting Agenda:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern

National Institutes of Health
31 Center Drive
Building 31, C Wing, 6th Floor, Conference Room 6
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
Map and Directions

On-site registration is from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Eastern for members of the public attending in person, and the meeting will also be available to the public by live videocast and conference call. The materials for the meeting can be found here.

Time Event
  9:00 a.m. Welcome, Introductions and Approval of Minutes

Thomas Insel, M.D.
Director, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Chair, IACC

Susan Daniels, Ph.D.
Acting Director, Office of Autism Research Coordination, NIMH
Executive Secretary, IACC

  9:15 Science Update

Thomas Insel, M.D.
Director, NIMH
Chair, IACC

  9:45 Update on CAA Reauthorization, IACC Activities and GAO Review
 10:45 Break
 11:00 Discussion and Approval of 2013 IACC Strategic Plan Update
 12:00 p.m. Lunch
  1:00 Public Comments
  1:25 Discussion of Public Comments
  1:50 An Attempt at Re-defining Autism for the Biological Sciences

Ami Klin, Ph.D.
Director, Marcus Autism Center 
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta 
Professor and Chief, Division of Autism and Related Disabilities 
Department of Pediatrics 
Emory University School of Medicine

  2:20 National Science Foundation Research Activities Related to Autism

Mark H. Leddy, Ph.D.
Program Director, Division of Human Resource Development 
Directorate for Education and Human Resources
National Science Foundation

  2:50 Committee Business

DSM-5 Planning Group Update

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. 
Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences 
Duke University School of Medicine 
Director, Duke University Center on Autism Diagnosis and Treatment 
Co-Director, Duke University Developmental Neuroscience Research Program
Member, IACC

  3:20 Committee Business

OARC Update

Susan Daniels, Ph.D.
Acting Director, Office of Autism Research Coordination, NIMH
Executive Secretary, IACC

  3:50 Break
  4:00 Round Robin

Larry Wexler, Ph.D. – PROMISE
Division Director, Research to Practice Division
U.S. Department of Education
Member, IACC

Coleen Boyle, Ph.D. – Somali Study
Director, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Member, IACC

  5:00 Adjournment

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Comments Off on New Mpls Mayor – Hodges Says NO to Somali Staffing, Unbelievable

Alright, so if you follow Minneapolis politics then you know Mayor RT did not run again after a decade at the helm. I think RT left Mpls with some very horrible disparity records from education, health, employment to you name it for African Americans which includes Somalis.

As a result, change was needed then came Betsy Hodges whose husband is African American and that is where her diversity plan ends. Hodges was sworn in first week of Jan 2014. 
As it is usual for MN DFLr’s, Mayor Hodges rewarded her Caucasian campaign staff to top positions such as John Stiles whom she hired as her Chief of Staff. Hodges also rewarded others such as Grace, Peter and others who worked in her campaign. However, when it came to her Somali campaign staff – her answer “come on really, you were not looking for a job, were you? because you know I only needed your community’s votes”. 
It has become customary for many in this state to only hire Somalis for their campaigns and not if they win. Why is that and why do we allow them to treat our young and talented this way?
Osman Cirro was Betsy Hodges’s Somali campaign staff and he did an excellent job. He sold Hodged to our community as if she was holly water. He relentlessly campaigned for her in every corner, went to every event to promote her and endlessly talked how fair and inclusive she was on Somali media. 
I for one am not surprised Hodges would do this, Franken, Dayton – many of them did it. They hire Somalis by the dozens during elections to only drop them faster than NY minute when they win. Yet, we selectively forget they did that and flock to their campaigns next election. I really wonder why that is and how we can change that double standard & bias policy. 
I hope those that have been dropped ask themselves if they are not good enough to be hired as permanent staff in their office then they should not be good enough to campaign for them.
All politics is local and the nerve and audacity for Hodges to leave Mr. Cirro in the cold is both disappointing and hurtful. I would say he worked for you harder than Stiles, yet you only rewarded selectively. Why Ms. Mayor? Why would you start with such bias hiring policy from the get go?
You endlessly mentioned equity and equality during your campaign. Where are those now in your priorities? 
Mayor Hodges – our community will not be stupid forever. We will learn to connect the dots of we campaign for you and you hire us and address our issues. If not, you will no longer have our votes guaranteed. 
Fool me once, shame on you – fool me every election cycle, shame on US. Fooling our community during election times is becoming the norm for many MN DFL politicians and that must change. You scratch my back and I scratch yours is the way to politics. Voting for them should NOT be guaranteed. They need to learn that if they don’t hire our people, write legislations to uplift our community and address our needs – we will vote for the other side. 
I think if Somalis have an ounce of a backbone, they will demonstrate and protest in-front of the Mayor’s non-Somali staffed office. 
Har iyo habeen – in aan u da’daalno dad aan noo da’daalayn waa nacasnimo. 
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate

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The Glass is 3/4 Full & It Will Get Better

Comments Off on The Glass is 3/4 Full & It Will Get Better

Alright, by now if you read my blog then you know that I am very interested in equality and diversity in all things Autism in Minnesota.

And, I have really good news from DHS, UMN ICI and MDH (well MDH – OK news)
Let’s start with Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) or State Medicaid Agency which overseas all autism therapies and interventions for thousands of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 
Where shall I start – maybe back in 2010 when I consistently and relentlessly testified at the State Capitol by asking the same-thing over and over until state legislatures were either annoyed or understood my points.
As you might know, you get 3 minutes (give or take depending on the chair) to testify for any public bill or policy going through the legislature and I would watch when DHS leaders were there, especially David or Alex and kept asking; what does MN DHS cover for autism, what does it call and who does it pay for? 
Then of course the chair would call Alex or David and ask them. They would then say we don’t cover ABA, pay for this or that. I would then say on the next hearing, they need to cover autism therapy and call it what it is.
To make a long – very long, really long advocacy short, state legislatures charged MN DHS to come up with autism specific benefit and voila the new ASD benefit that passed last year. Now, after that I got a lot of calls from Somalis and other minorities saying; if I were caucasian the new ASD benefit would be named after me or something. OK, maybe – well most likely, probably.
But my goal was never to be named after a bill or to even be known for it. It was simply ALL kids with ASD having EQUAL access to autism therapy including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I think we have accomplished that.
Another area I advocated was MN DHS having someone specific for Autism, so I would call them and ask who I should speak to about autism. Initially, they were confused then they would assign me to someone – usually an assistant commissioner who quite frankly did not have time for my questions and my goal was to irritate them so they would have to get someone for AUTISM which they finally did Anne Harrington. DHS also contracted with Mariam/CSCM for Somali autism outreach which I am hoping will turn into a permanent collaboration. 
Here comes the bonus – MN DHS is hiring an autism policy adviser and just this week Anne Barry told me MN DHS hired an African American Assistant Commissioner Mr. Brownell. I know at first I thought – no way, really.
Yes, really Anne B assured me and viola he is listed on their leadership website which you can see end of this post.
In summary, I look at all of this progress at MN DHS as the glass being three quarters full and it will get better as they keep hiring diverse staff in middle and lower positions so that DHS can reflect the communities it serves. Now, who can ask for anything better of Commissioner Jesson and Deputy Commissioner Barry (who is by far the sweetest and most sincere person I’ve ever met in Minnesota state agencies).
Was getting here hard, of course. You all heard of driving while Black, then there is walking while Black especially in NYC with their stop and frisk policy. Well, now add advocating while Black, but with a good ending towards diversity, inclusion and fairness for all.
Now update from MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) Well – this is OK news because MDH only hired two Somalis for autism outreach and education including immunizations. We have not seen their contributions yet, but my hope is MDH will do better than that and look into cause research for autism.
Now update from ICI at UMN (University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration and LEND Program) Now, this by far was the hardest and gave me the most headache advocating because there was so much resistance from Dr. Hewitt and UMN overall. But finally with the help of Denise, Diane and Laura from HRSA (Health Resources & Services Adminstration) as well as Dr. Wakefield and even Sec Sebelius (I told you this was very difficult) – they hired ONE Somali person at ICI, Anab, one Somali at LEND as community faculty, and had many minorities in their LEND program. This year alone they have four Somali LEND fellows, and added a minority person to their selection committee. This ideas was so good that even Georgia LEND program added one Somali fellow. How awesome and such a good feeling when diversity is the norm. 
So, despite the many endless days and nights of advocating for more diverse students, diverse workforce and equal policies – I feel happy and I think the glass is definitely 3/4 full. My hope is for those now on the inside to never forget who they represent and keep helping those behind them.
I really thank everyone that made this possible from the bottom of my heart and hope they continue to be mindful of their hiring and policies. 
God Bless!
As usual, above words are my opinion and do not reflect any committee or agency.
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate

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Comments Off on MN ASD TF on IDLE For The Past Six Months, WHY?

Minnesota Autism Spectrum Disorder Task Force created by state legislation years ago and has always met at least monthly and produced annual report to the Governor and Senate/House leaders has been on IDLE since summer of 2013. (No not American Idol and not my name of Idil, but IDLE meaning the do nothing committee)

Why? well in one name Rep Norton, the queen of autism disparity joined several months ago in the midst of last chair quitting because I asked equality. (God Forbid – we are equal here)
Rep Slawik was a member representing MN DFL House who is now a mayor of Maplewood left and we got Norton in her place. It has been down hill ever since then. The task force has accomplished nothing thus far for months, has failed to submit an annual by statue report end of 2013 and has not met for months now. 
The new chair who represents DEED (MN department of economic and employment development) has not asked members to write any report, form sub groups, asked the open vacancies to be filled, set any meeting times for most to attend, and has been very laid back and carefree about autism.
And to think all of this because I asked MDH’s rep (not sure how she exactly got the job there – maybe nepotism) to include agencies of color and share HRSA autism grant that I advocated very hard in Congress and the White House back in 2011. Can you believe that?
The nerve and audacity of MDH and others who were not responsible and did not lift one finger or made one phone call to get Combating Autism Act (CAA) authorized which is how HRSA got the autism funds to deny equality and inclusion. There is not one other single person in Minn that has advocated as hard and made sure ALL 8 house reps and 2 senators voted and supported this bill than me. Yet, I can’t even ask for simple sharing of those resources for under-served communities. This is sad and unbelievable. Many here don’t even know what the heck CAA does, did and why it matters to autism. I kid you not. 
These kinds of deliberate and bias tactics are exactly why MN has one of the worst health disparity in the country and why so many minority health issues take back seat. They don’t want to share the resources, they don’t want to include & they don’t want to listen to different ideas even though theirs have failed for years now.
As minorities, we have to fight for every little thing. This is so hurtful in so many ways.
In addition to all of this – Rep Norton’s arrival just made it worse. Remember this is the woman who wanted to take $25 million for the wealthy and take away from the poor in health and human services budget last year in 2013. How distasteful, Norton must be defeated in 2014 election. 
I really hope things get back to normal and people realize thousands of MN autism families are depending on the work of this task force. There needs to be a line drawn between personal opinions and the charge at hand which is to create MN autism statewide plan.
There is so much to be done to play this childish game. I hope everyone votes based who they represent by following open meeting laws in MN and defend their vote or their comments. Instead everyone pretends to be inclusive while their votes are nothing but. And, if I hear one more time – I have a Black friend, I went to school with a Black person or I have a minority in my family, I am going to scream. That is soooo irrelevant. What is more important is how policies are shaped and by whom. 
As usual above words are my own and do not reflect any committee.
Idil – Somali Autism Mom and Minority Advocate

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