Maren Christenson Hofer (MNLEND 2018–19) with her autistic son, Simon. The boy is holding a stuffed toy and an "I got my shot" sticker from the Minnesota Department of Health. Mother and son are wearing medical masks.

Several of the Institute’s MNLEND program fellows—current and past—have played key roles in bringing sensory-friendly vaccine clinics to children and families in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. 

Fatima Molas (MNLEND 2016–17) and Maren Christenson Hofer (MNLEND 2018–19; pictured at an earlier event with her autistic son, Simon) of the Multicultural Autism Action Network, and Ellie Wilson (MNLEND 2010–11), executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota, collaborated with several other partners to create COVID-19 vaccination clinics with quiet rooms, music therapy, a drive-thru option, and distraction techniques.  

“At most vaccine events, the goal is getting as many shots in arms as possible,” said Hofer. “Our primary goal was creating the best possible experience and to bring some compassion and understanding to children and families, who may have experienced past trauma or have ongoing anxiety in these settings.” 

Raniya Yiman and Brittany Miller, current MNLEND fellows, and Alicia Zhang, an ICI graduate assistant, served as volunteer staff at the clinics. 

“It was very meaningful work,” Yiman said. “I was really happy to be able to volunteer in this way and talk to the families.” 

Hennepin County Healthcare and Spero Academy partnered with the organizations on the most recent clinics in December and January at Spero in northeast Minneapolis, which drew more than 300 participants. The autism organizations held two smaller clinics last summer in St. Paul. 

“We believe everyone deserves access to healthcare,” Hofer said. “Offering this clinic is one way we can make sure all members of our community can stay safe during the pandemic. We offer a little more patience, flexibility, and an extra dose of compassion for anyone who might need it.” 

Hofer said families expressed gratitude at the events.  

“We had a really nice response. It was a tough day emotionally for everyone, but to see the relief and gratitude of families who had gone to other events and weren’t able to complete their vaccines, to see them feeling supported and not judged for needing some extra help was really nice,” she said.