UAH Regional Autism Network partnership continues strong despite pandemic

Regional Autism Network
Courtesy of UAH RAN

In spite of the ongoing pandemic, The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, continues to provide strong support to individuals, educators and caregivers through its partnership with the Regional Autism Network (RAN).

The Alabama Department of Mental Health named the University of Alabama in Huntsville a RAN site in 2017. UAH is one of five autism resource hubs in the state. The UAH RAN staff maintains a particular focus on North Alabama. Each hub is funded by the Department of Mental Health and staffed by experts in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The RAN mission is to "foster strong connections between individuals and families directly affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, professionals and providers, and the community to promote quality of life and enrich the fabric of society for all."

Alabama's RAN hubs strive to serve those who have questions, concerns or resource needs regarding themselves, a family member, friend, client, patient or a student with diagnosed or suspected ASD. The network provides professional training programs, technical assistance and consultation services, with a special emphasis on individual and direct-family assistance in the home, community and school, as well as public education programs.

"The Regional Autism Network was originally launched at three sites across the state in 2016," explains RAN Coordinator Ashley McLain. "UAH was added as the 4th of 5 sites in 2017 to serve the North Alabama region. The Alabama Department of Mental Health felt that UAH would be the best fit for North Alabama."

The UAH RAN provides ongoing training opportunities for parents, service providers, public school educators, higher education faculty and community groups. The UAH RAN also has established a library of resources and direct assistance to educators and parents wishing to build a more collaborative relationship. These kinds of assistance and connections could not be more essential at this time, considering the challenges faced by people with ASD and their caregivers during a global health crisis.

"Adjusting to working through the pandemic has been difficult due to the loss of community engagement events," McLain says. "Prior to COVID, RAN hosted many ‘Lunch and Learn' events for different groups in the community to provide training and resources. The RAN was also able to visit schools and school districts, as well as any private businesses requesting our services. We have adjusted by hosting events via Zoom and hope to move back to in-person events as soon as it is safe to do so."

In the meantime, one of the primary goals to providing this support has been adjusting to necessary schedule changes and finding innovative ways to reach out to the community and those who can benefit from the use of these services.

"The families and individuals served by the RAN understand the 'new normal,'" McLain says. "But it has been frustrating in many regards, especially in the loss of in-person support events. Many local awareness events, such as the Walk for Autism hosted by the Autism Society of Alabama, have been cancelled, modified or rescheduled."

It is a testament to these professionals that they have worked diligently to continue to make available the resources that can be vital to the everyday lives and wellbeing of others.

"The greatest need for the organization at this time is to share that we are still here as a resource for families, even though much of that support has been virtual due to the pandemic," McLain says. "Any individual or business that specifically serves those affected by autism, or that wants to learn more about working with and serving those affected by autism, should contact the RAN."

McLain is quick to note that there are a number of ways the community can help in this time of additional stresses and obstacles.

"I would like the community to understand that the main mission of the RAN is to provide ongoing training opportunities for parents, service providers, public school educators, higher education faculty and community groups. We would love any information regarding new resources in the area to add to our database, and hope to continue to expand our resources in the future, including adding a potential bilingual Family Navigator to assist with individuals and families as grant funding for that position becomes available."

To learn about assistance and resources available in North Alabama, contact the UAH RAN at 256-824-5700 or email For more information, or anyone wishing to help, you are encouraged to visit the Alabama Regional Autism Network.



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