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Partner Spotlight

Maria Abinader
Campaign Champion and Parent Advocate, New Jersey

Maria and Louis Abinader“Hearing the diagnosis of ‘autism’ for the youngest of my four children left me and my family feeling like we were in a tunnel of the unknown,” says Maria Abinader, a campaign champion and parent advocate in her Hispanic community.

The Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign resources helped Maria and her family to navigate that tunnel to understand and help Maria’s youngest child, Luli.

Luli began displaying signs of developmental delays around age 6 months. “He became very quiet, while other kids were saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada,’ ” says Maria. “He was also missing other milestones, such as pointing and crawling.” The pediatricians Maria and Luli visited advised her to “wait and see” because every child develops differently; but this approach did not feel right to Maria.

“I consider myself a veteran mother,” says Maria. “I’ve raised three other children. I knew something wasn’t right.” So Maria and her family continued to take Luli to different doctors. Luli was 2 years old when they finally received a diagnosis from a developmental specialist.

Sharing the news of this diagnosis with family and close friends presented new challenges for Maria. “In my culture, the whole family raises the child. Not only did my family and I have to deal with our emotions, we also found there was a lack of information in Spanish. While I do speak English, many of my extended family members who help me take care of Luli do not. Explaining his condition to them was very difficult for me.”

Since Luli’s diagnosis, Maria has made it her mission to reach out to Latino families and be a source of information about autism services. “There is very little information out there in Spanish,” says Maria. “Not only am I a translator and an interpreter, I also help individuals and organizations in my community talk with one another to build a bridge of communication.”

Louis AbinaderTo make her outreach effective, Maria needed Spanish materials that spoke to her and her mission. While searching the Internet, Maria found the Learn the Signs. Act Early. Web site. “The Web site is excellent,” says Maria. “I am so happy I found materials in Spanish that I can distribute to my community.”

Maria helped to get campaign kits to the local offices of health departments and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children (WIC). She also shared the kits with local social service agencies, parent and autism organizations, and Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), and she distributed them at community events. Maria carries the kits and informational cards everywhere she goes and incorporates campaign materials in all her outreach efforts.

Distributing materials in her community was not enough. Maria wanted to reach out to Hispanic communities all over the world using the Internet. Maria and her family developed a Web site called Manitas por Autismo (“Give Autism a Little Hand”), where Hispanic families can get autism information in Spanish and link to the Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign Web site.

“My number one inspiration for developing this Web site was the Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign,” says Maria. “It made me realize that valuable information is out there, and I wanted to make it easier for Hispanic parents everywhere to come to one place to get information about their child’s development.”

“Do not hesitate to take your child to the doctor if you suspect something is wrong,” she continues. “You also must search for information that will help you learn about your child’s development. The Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign information was a light to me and to many of the families I work with, who were stuck in a tunnel of the unknown.”

To learn more about Manitas por Autismo, visit

For more information on how you can reach out to health professionals in your area, visit the How to Get Involved page of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” website.

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