#myimpact for Autism Awareness

Tonya Nash, MPH, CHES®

Health education is a wonderfully diverse field. You can work in a variety of specialty areas and my resume proves it!

Tonya Nash, MPH, CHES®
Tonya Nash, MPH, CHES®

I’ve been a health educator in areas such as diabetes management, worksite health promotion, and even tobacco cessation! However, life events have led me to an uncommon area in health education: autism awareness and advocacy.

My husband and I have two sons with autism. Our oldest son started showing signs in 2009. Honestly, we weren’t very knowledgeable about autism at the time. Apparently, we weren’t alone. We realized that there was a lack of knowledge in some faith communities and in communities of color too. Some tried to be accommodating and understanding. Sadly, our family also experienced rejection, willful ignorance and the sting of stigmas.

In 2016, I created the Autism Awareness Month Faith Based Initiative with the hopes of using my faith and public health skills to breakdown walls.

The initiative recruits and empowers faith-based communities to do activities that promote autism awareness, acceptance and inclusion during autism awareness month. In this capacity, I regularly utilize all seven areas of responsibility for health education specialists. I create autism awareness toolkits, handouts, and brochures in plain language. I also serve as a resource person for participating churches.

Since 2016, the initiative has served 23 churches, with over 5500 people learning about autism at their place of worship! In December 2017, the initiative won Honorable Mention at the Patients’ View Impact Awards!

It is my hope that autism will be discussed more often in the field of health education. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 68 children has been diagnosed with autism. Research has shown that children of color are more likely to be diagnosed with autism at a later age.

Health educators can play an important role in autism awareness by promoting early intervention, improving access to care and eliminating stigmas.

I hope that #myimpact will help to make that happen. I also hope that #myimpact will encourage health educators to not be afraid to utilize their skills for uncommon specialties. With a career field diverse as ours, you can create your own path! Go for it!

Send us your #myimpact story in health education or health promotion [include a photo] at myimpact@sophe.org.

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