Leading Lady Jamie: Bringing Autism Awareness to Urban Communities

introducing jamie upshaw, founder of Autism urban connections, inc.

Autism Urban Connections Inc. (AUC Inc.) is a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization and the 1st and only African American and minority focused Autism organization in Pittsburgh, PA, Allegheny County, and in the entire state of Pennsylvania; founded in 2018. 

Jamie Upshaw, founder of Autism Urban Connections, Inc.

with her desire to advocate for her family, she ended up advocating for every black family who has a child with autism …

Ta’lor: Jamie you are so powerful. Thank you for allowing me to interview you. I would love to begin by you sharing who is Jamie Upshaw?

Jamie: Well, I am a 42 year old Pittsburgh native and a proud mother of three children. I am also the Founder and Executive Director of Autism Urban Connections Inc. (AUC Inc.).

Ta’lor: Wow Jamie. Can you explain more about AUC, Inc. and the services that you provide?

Jamie: Autism Urban Connections Inc. evolved from a support group that I began in 2015 after my son received an Autism diagnosis at the age of 3 with a lack of support and services in our community.  Overtime, the number of families that needed services continued to grow, so I decided to create this organization, where our mission is to provide education, support, advocacy, and empowerment with an emphasis on self-care to parents/caregivers of those diagnosed with Autism, with priority placed on the African American, minority, and economically disadvantaged member of the community.

Ta’lor: Such beautiful and powerful work you are doing. What is the impact you are seeing in the urban families you are working with because of AUC, inc.?

Jamie: That lives are being changed in the African American, minority and economically disadvantaged members in this city. These communities are finally getting valuable education and resources about Autism and they are learning to advocate for their families. They are receiving additional supports; developing friendships and creating life long bonds. I am truly proud of this work and our parent/caregiver self-care sessions promote a healthier lifestyle for special needs parents.

Ta’lor: What is the best part of what you do and the most challenging?

Jamie: The best part of what I do is that I know that my work will contribute to breaking down the disparities in the healthcare, special education, and the justice system in our most marginalized, under-served communities when it comes to Autism. The most challenging part is that we are a newly established 501(c)(3) Nonprofit, which has made our funding very slim. As stated, we began as a support group over 4 years ago, so we’ve served multiple families throughout the years, but our demand for various supports and resources are increasing. So, we need more Donor support to assist us in our commitment to ensure that all people receive equal supports, education, and resources in every community.

Ta’lor: What would you say to a parent who feels that their child may have Autism or Asperger’s disorder?

Jamie: Just to clarify, Asperger is no longer in a separate category or separate diagnosis from Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5 (originally published May 18, 2013). According to Very Well Health,  anyone who had an Asperger syndrome diagnosis prior to 2013 is now considered to have Autism Spectrum Disorder. The “new” autism describes people as having a severity level between one and three, based on their need for support. Virtually everyone with a prior Asperger syndrome diagnosis qualifies for a Level 1 diagnosis, meaning “in need of a relatively low level of support.” Meanwhile, individuals presenting for the first time with relatively mild symptoms of autism will receive a first-time diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Ta’lor: That is great information to know Jamie. So, if someone was wondering where their child falls on the Autism spectrum what would you suggest they do?

Jamie: We here at Autism Urban Connections Inc. will meet your needs wherever you are at in you and your families journey. If you are just interested to know more about Autism, or maybe unsure of what to be aware of (e.g. what are the signs), or you think something is going on with child and not sure what to do next, please contact us at 412-853-0115 M-F 9 am – 4 pm, or email us at aucofpgh@yahoo.com, we will be more than happy to assist you! Also, be sure to visit our website at https://www.aucofpgh.org and our Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/aucpghinc/

Ta’lor: What or who has helped you in your journey in reaching your goals as a mompreneur or business woman?

Jamie: First, with my son as my inspiration coupled with the obstacles to get a correct diagnosis for him, plus the lack of supports or even awareness in our African American and minority communities, I had to do something! Honestly, when I started AUC, I didn’t fully know what that entailed, nobody said this is how you facilitate a group. However, me being me, I had no problem getting in the books, asking questions, and teaching myself the whole way through. Not to say that I didn’t have support, because my were children my biggest cheerleaders and support, from my loved ones, but I have built Autism Urban Connections Inc. from the ground up by myself. From learning how to run an effective group, to learning what people need (which will always be forever evolving), building relationships with community-based organizations, to hosting events; I just was unwilling to quit or to wait for anyone.

Ta’lor: Jamie thank you so much for this interview. What would you consider a Leading Lady to be?

Jamie: I consider a Leading Lady to be a woman of spiritual grounding and grace, a woman who is selfless in all her ways and make serving others as making a priority to meet them where they are. A woman who cares for and blesses her children and home, while pouring the overflow to her community. Passion driven, fearless and willing to go that extra distance with you, because she is a WOMAN OF HER OWN BY GODS GRACE!!!!The extra things that I’ll say are that I hope this inspires someone to know that by Gods grace, all things are possible! Be a life changer, your community is depending on you!!! 

More about Jamie Upshaw, Founder of AUC, Inc.

Jamie Upshaw has a Master Degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies from Point Park University. She is a former PEAL Center Board Member, a Certified Parent Ambassador under the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh, and served as Chair of Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center (COTRAIC) Policy Council for 2 years and Vice-Chair for one year.

To learn more about Autism Urban Connections, Inc. be sure to visit their website at https://www.aucofpgh.org and our Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/aucpghinc/ 


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