TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (KFOR) – The Cherokee Nation is taking steps to improve autism diagnosis and treatment among citizens.

According to the Cherokee Nation, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner announced new efforts on Tuesday to better address autism within the tribe. This includes the development of the Task Force on the Cherokee Nation Autism Initiative.

Officials say Chief Hoskin signed an executive order on Tuesday creating the task force to analyze current services and resources accessible for patients and families in the Cherokee Nation Health Services system.

Chief Hoskin signs a proclomation declaring April 2023 as Autism Awareness Month and announces task force. April 4, 2023. Image courtesy Cherokee Nation.

The task force will also recommend ways the tribe can improve its autism initiatives in a report issued no later than March 1, 2024.

“The impact of autism on Cherokee Nation citizens, their families and our communities is far-reaching. At Cherokee Nation, we want to provide a comprehensive and collaborative approach with community partners to advance research, increase awareness and advocate for ensuring equitable access to services and resources, diagnosis, treatment, social care and opportunity,” Chief Hoskin said. “This executive order is a meaningful, actionable step toward addressing the needs of our Cherokee families.”

Along with the task force development, the Cherokee Nation says it will employ a case manager within Health Services who will be responsible for supporting patients with services and resources.

“It is very fitting that we take these steps in April after observing April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day and with Chief Hoskin proclaiming the entire month as Autism Awareness Month in the Cherokee Nation,” said Deputy Chief Warner.

“Autism impacts each person in different ways and results in unique strengths and challenges. We are committed to enhancing our health care system to provide these critical screenings, diagnosis, treatment and intervention services that can be tailored to Cherokee citizens who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

According to the tribe, the task force committee members will include Executive Medical Director Dr. Roger Montgomery; Senior Director of Nursing Rebecca Shepherd; Hannah Labounty with Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health Services; Senior Director of Rehab Services Amber Tiehen; and one additional member who will be chosen by the committee.

The person chosen would have to display interest and/or professional background in autism treatment, awareness or advocacy and is not an employee of the Cherokee Nation.