MNLEND Fellows Past and Present Lead Multicultural Autism Action Network
Maren Christenson Hofer (pictured in foreground, second from right), a Fellow in ICI’s Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) program, is honing her intercultural communication and negotiation strategies in a new setting. For 20 years, she worked in international business development. Now, as a MNLEND Fellow, she practices multicultural communication back in Minnesota as a leader in the Multicultural Autism Action Network (MAAN), a nonprofit organization that helps families navigate complex educational, medical, therapeutic, and autism support and service systems. As the parent of a child with autism, she has firsthand knowledge of those complexities, and — thanks to her intercultural experience — knows they can be almost overwhelming when differences in culture, language, and power dynamics are at play. Working at MAAN continues to broaden her intercultural education while expanding the support network of families of children with autism among Minnesota’s underserved communities. Hofer’s interest in the interdisciplinary MNLEND program was sparked by the opportunity to see the world of neurodevelopmental disability through different lenses; her work with MAAN offers similar opportunities to share knowledge from her personal experience and learn from others.
“Working in intercultural communities, we often talk about seeing through another’s lens,” says Hofer. “I see through the eyes of a parent of a child with autism, and MNLEND shares the perspective of practitioners, professionals, and other providers in our community. I learn from others in my cohort and at times teach them about how the world looks from a family’s perspective. Seeing multiple perspectives makes us all stronger in our respective fields.”
In MAAN, Hofer helps to provide safe spaces where families from different cultures can learn from, and support, each other. Together, MAAN families address the information imbalance between families and service providers, develop leadership capacity within under-represented groups, share information about evidence-based practices and how to access them, offer assistance with insurance forms and service applications, attend appointments, and provide in-person support to listen to each other without judgment or fear of stigma.
Two former MNLEND Fellows also support MAAN’s work: Mariam Egal (third from left), a coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health, and Fatima Molas (right), a respiratory therapist and parent-advocate. Another MAAN member, Dr. Delia Samuel (left), has served as guest faculty for MNLEND.