“Advocacy is not just for one, it’s for all”
By: Brandi Randolph
In 2022, 1 in every 100 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but black children tend to get diagnosed later in life. Devan Southerland is trying to change this for the children diagnosed and their families. Devan is the founder of Brown on the Spectrum, an online resource for black families and individuals on the autism spectrum. She has been passionate about Brown on the Spectrum for the past seven years. As a mom of a son with autism, she understands how children fall through the cracks and how parents want to advocate for their children. She helps them do just that.
Devan was born and raised in Baltimore, MD in the McElderry Park neighborhood. Devan said that she, “is a city girl inside and out”. She was taught resiliency and self-advocacy by her mother. She takes what she learned and applies it by speaking up for everyone who cannot speak for themselves.
Devan completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, College Park in Family Studies, with a minor in African American studies. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she realized that having one degree was not going to help her reach her goals. She began researching graduate programs. Devan was considering a social work program, until she researched the Human Services Administration graduate degree at Coppin State University. She explained that she chose this major because, “I can work anywhere and learn the basics of leadership, budget management, and program evaluation.” She graduated in 2019 from Coppin with a Master of Science in Human Services Administration.
When Devan graduated from Coppin, she was offered a job at The Harbor Bank of Maryland to manage The Haskins Center. She worked there for a year until the pandemic hit in March 2020. Once restrictions were lifted, she was working in customer service at the bank, but her son was in school virtually and she could not take him with her to work. She had to figure out her next move in a period of unknown and she found it. Devan decided to focus full time on her passion project, Brown on the Spectrum.
Devan started Brown on the Spectrum in 2015 as an online resource to provide information to parents of children with autism and individuals (including adults) with autism. While it started as an online resource, she would like to take it offline in the future. She began to think of her son and other parents who are thinking about their children transitioning into adulthood. From this thought, she began applying for different funding opportunities such as the Open Society Institute (OSI) Community Fellowship. She applied to this fellowship because, “I wanted to add more to Brown on the Spectrum to take it from online to in person, and what would that look like.” Devan is building this program from the ground up, and she has the space to do so because she was awarded the OSI Community Fellowship.
Devan then talked about what she values most about this work, and how Brown on the Spectrum should look like in five to ten years. She values that, “families feel empowered, and that I can affect so much change in our community.” In five to ten years, Devan sees Brown on the Spectrum as the go-to resource for Baltimore City Public Schools, the Mayor's Office of Employment for businesses, and as an employment agency for individuals with autism.
Devan implores students to, “check in with your advisor, and find out where you are. Have honest conversations and work backward from what you want your career to be. Do not forget to network, make connections, and volunteer.”.
We are excited to see the growth of Brown on the Spectrum, and we believe in you Devan!