Somali Community (Minneapolis, MN) Team

LHLaura Heezen (Lead BCBA)

Laura received her undergraduate degree in psychology with an emphasis in behavior analysis in 1994 from University of Wisconsin– Eau Claire.  She next attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale to receive her Masters of Science in Behavior Analysis and Therapy in 1998 and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 1999.  She taught parents, caregivers and teachers how to address children with behavioral challenges for 4 years in Orlando, Florida from 1996-2000.  In 2000, she moved to Minneapolis, MN and spent 5 years consulting with families and implementing Intensive Behavioral Interventions for children with Autism.  She then worked as a BCBA conducting functional assessments and developing behavioral interventions for the special education department in the Wayzata School District in Minnesota.  She currently uses Applied Behavior Analysis with veterans that have dementia and/or mental health diagnoses for the State of Minnesota in a long term care setting.  She is passionate about conducting research to further learn how ABA can help people with dementia and severe behavior challenges and is passionate about teaching people about how they can use it to help their children with learning and behavior challenges.  She is very excited to be part of the AGVFA team that is working with the Somali Community in Minneapolis, MN.

BeckyBecky Waege (Autism Support Specialist)

Becky has a BA in Sociology with an emphasis in Family Studies Winona State University.  She began working with children diagnosed with autism in 2009.  She received intensive training in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and has worked in two multi-disciplinary ABA clinics.  Her training is specific to Verbal Behavior and errorless teaching.  As a Lead Behavior Therapist, she worked closely with a BCBA to develop programming and train parents and other therapists.  She currently works for a private college assisting students with high functioning autism and other learning differences in finding and maintaining employment.  She is currently volunteering for a Global Voice for Autism’s Minneapolis based program focusing on autism in the Somali community.  She continues to find ways to stay involved in the autism community, increasing her knowledge and skills of autism and behavioral techniques.

fatimaFatima Molas (Parent Community Liaison)

Originally from Somalia, Fatima has been living in the U.S. for 17 years. She is a respiratory therapist by training with a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management and is the proud mother of six children, including 3-year-old Noah, who has autism.

Since Noah’s autism diagnosis, Fatima has immersed herself in the autism world and made an effort to learn everything she can about it through peer-reviewed journal articles and conversations with other autism parents. For the past year-and-a-half, Fatima has been working with A Global Voice for Autism to design a culturally-appropriate program for her community. She is now guiding a cohort of nine families through our cooperative training program.

anneMariam Egal (Interpreter and Community Coordinating Partner)

Mariam Egal is the Multicultural Training & Outreach Coordinator of MN Department of Human Services, Disability Services Division. She holds an MPH in International Health, MA in science education, BS in biology pre-med and is a LEND fellow in Leadership Education in Neuro-Developmental Disorders, from University of Minnesota. She has accumulated experience in the development and delivery of public health initiatives, and related educational programs, to stakeholders and or to selected communities with the end goal of reducing and eliminating health disparities between non-minority and minority populations experiencing disproportionate burdens of disease, disability, and premature death. She was also a member of the research team for A Qualitative Study of Families of Children with Autism in the Somali Community: Comparing the Experiences of Minnesota Immigrant Groups. Currently her emphasis is on working with autism service providers and multi-cultural families of children with autism in an effort of bridging the gap and engaging these families in a culturally meaningful way for the purpose of promoting early access to resources and services. Prior to this Mariam was engaged in the field of biomedical research.

Anne Harrington (Parent Support Volunteer)

Anne received a Bachelor’s in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota and went on to complete a Masters in Public Health with a focus on Maternal and Child Health and to become a licensed Early Childhood Special Education Teacher and Family Educator. Anne has worked with individuals on the autism spectrum since the late 1970’s when she helped open the first apartment complex for adults with severe autism who were being moved out of state institutions. Anne worked with PACER Center in the 1980’s to develop a pilot project to prevent abuse of children with disabilities. Anne worked in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) from 1987-2008 as an ECSE Teacher, Evaluator, Parent Educator and Autism Resource Specialist. Anne coordinated the ECSE Autism Program for 8 years until she left MPS in 2008. In 2012 Anne was hired by the MN Department of Human Services as the State Autism Planning Director to lead the development of services for individuals with autism and their families. Anne was instrumental in bringing the diverse community of autism stakeholders together to pass legislation in 2013 for the first public insurance benefit specifically designed to provide coverage for medically necessary treatment of children with autism. Anne is also the parent of two adult daughters and an adopted son with Down’s syndrome who was given a diagnosis of Autism and ADHD at 3 years of age. Anne has devoted her career of over 40 years to building bridges and opening doors by advocating, teaching, developing, providing services and celebrating the gifts that each family holds.