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Community Spotlight: Kaleb Phelps is Shedding Light on the Experiences of Black Families Pursuing Autism Diagnoses

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects individuals from all walks of life, yet there is a significant lack of understanding and support within certain communities. Kaleb Phelps, a senior public health major at the University of South Carolina, is determined to change that narrative. Through his groundbreaking research and unwavering dedication, Phelps is breaking barriers and shedding light on the experiences of Black families pursuing ASD diagnoses.

Phelps' journey into autism research began unexpectedly during his time at the University of South Carolina Honors College. Prior to that, he had no personal experience with ASD. However, the opportunity to contribute to research in the USC Neurodevelopment Disorders Lab sparked a passion within him to better understand the condition, particularly within the Black community.

Kaleb Phelps in a gray suit standing outside between two sets of wooden double doors.
Kaleb Phelps

During his research, Phelps observed a marked imbalance in the representation of Black participants within the field. This realization pushed him to delve deeper and address the lack of healthcare support for Black autistic children. With the support of the Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of South Carolina, Phelps embarked on a mission to bridge this gap.

Under the mentorship of psychology professor Jessica Bradshaw, Phelps secured funding from the prestigious Autism Science Foundation fellowship. His research proposal, "Understanding the Diagnostic Experiences of Black Families," aims to uncover the unique challenges faced by Black families in accessing autism diagnoses and support systems. By collecting data directly from these families, Phelps intends to develop culturally competent interventions that will help eliminate barriers and reduce health disparities.

Phelps' work goes beyond the academic realm. He aims to challenge the stereotypes about autism by reminding the public that people with autism can have diverse appearance and behaviors. His research serves as a powerful reminder that individuals on the autism spectrum can be found in all aspects of our lives, often undetected due to misconceptions or racial biases.

Phelps has concluded his study and is preparing to graduate this spring, but his ambition remains unwavering. He plans to pursue a dual degree in law and healthcare administration, aiming to work in healthcare policy and promotion. Through his advocacy and commitment to proactive, community-based healthcare, Phelps aspires to create a broader approach to addressing health disparities.

As we celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, Kaleb Phelps stands as an inspiring example of dedication, innovation, and advocacy. His groundbreaking research is set to make a significant impact in reducing health disparities and improving the lives of Black autistic children and their families. You can watch an exclusive interview where Akoma Cares' disability advocacy coordinator, Anastasia Ford, explores Phelps' journey, the importance of autism acceptance, and the need for more Black researchers in the healthcare below. Together, let us champion inclusivity and understanding during Autism Acceptance Month and beyond.

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