TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner announced Tuesday several new steps the tribe is taking to better address autism diagnosis and treatment among Cherokee Nation citizens, including the creation of the Task Force on the Cherokee Nation Autism Initiative.

Chief Hoskin signed an executive order Tuesday creating the task force to review existing services and resources available to patients and families within the Cherokee Nation Health Services system. The task force will also make further recommendations on how the tribe can enhance its autism initiatives in a final 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 creating the task force, the Cherokee Nation will employ a case manager within Health Services whose duties and responsibilities will be to support 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.”

As part of Chief Hoskin’s executive order, the task force committee members will consist of 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 committee member selected by the other four and who has a demonstrated interest and/or professional background in autism treatment, awareness or advocacy but who is not a Cherokee Nation employee.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic background. In 2023 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately 1 in 36 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.