We celebrate the achievements of 5 African-Americans with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during Black History Month. Despite the fact that Autism Spectrum Disorder affects people of all races and ethnicities, African-Americans and Latinos receive treatment and intervention much later than white children. Below are some prominent African-American personalities who have broken barriers and succeeded.
1. Tom Wiggins: A former slave turned musician
Born into slavery in Columbus, Georgia in 1848, Tom Wiggins grew up as a slave. A neighbor bought him and his family at auction when he was nine months old. Despite being able to repeat ten-minute conversations, Tom couldn’t express his own needs by the age of four. The piano was his greatest source of solace, and he could play complex concertos in no time at all. For Tom, music helped him integrate sensory information from all around him, as it does for many people with autism spectrum disorders. After performing at sold-out concerts, he was even invited to the White House to perform before President James Buchanan and a group of Washington socialites at the age of 11. It was the first time an African-American musician performed at the White House.
2. Armani Williams: NASCAR Driver
NASCAR driver Armani was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at age two. He didn’t speak his first word until he was three years old. At the age of eight, he discovered NASCAR and fell in love with fast cars. After that, he began racing go-karts and attended a competitive go-karting school. As one of the few African-American drivers in NASCAR, this 22-year-old is one of the few professionals in the sport. By displaying the blue autism puzzle on his cars, Armani spreads awareness and acceptance about autism.
3. Breanna Clark: Athlete
Having been diagnosed at age four, Breanna is the daughter of 4X400 meters relay silver medalist Rosalyn Clark. A Paralympic athlete, she is a Parapan American and Paralympic champion. During the 2021 Paralympics, Breanna won every major race she competed in, including the women’s 400m T20 gold medal.
4. Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu: Educator and Author
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu is an American researcher and educator who advocates for autism and HIV awareness. She was born to immigrant parents in the United States and feels her symptoms of ASD were initially misinterpreted as signs of “a black person trying to fit into the white environment.” Morénike is the co-editor of All the Weight of Our Dreams – an anthology of art and writing entirely by autistic people of color. In addition to HIV awareness, she is involved in learning through technology, research, gender, disability, and racial equity.
5. Lamar Hardwick: Author
At 36 years old, Dr. Hardwick was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As a result of years of struggling with social anxiety, he developed several coping strategies to blend in. After realizing he wasn’t picking up on social cues during his doctoral program, Lamar sought an autism evaluation and was formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is the author of the bestselling book I am Strong: The Life and Journey of an Autistic Pastor. In addition to providing workshops and seminars, he consults with churches, faith-based organizations, and schools regarding the creation of autism-friendly environments. In addition, he mentors teens and young adults with autism.