Advocacy Committee


Meet the Autism Society of Texas Advocacy Committee

Our volunteer Advocacy Committee includes parents of young children, teens, and adults with autism, as well as self-advocates. The committee provides input on the needs of the autism community in Texas, and helps to guide the Autism Society of Texas’ legislative priorities.

Ameen Al-Bahloly

Ameen is the moderator of the San Antonio Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome Support Group that meets on the 1st Sunday of each month at the San Antonio Clubhouse. He has been on the Autism Society of Texas DreamWeek panel for the last two years (2017 & 2018) to share the experiences he faced and how he overcame adversity. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s in March of 2012. Through his association with the Order of Alhambra, he has given back time and treasure to help children and adults on the spectrum who continue to struggle in the face of these challenges.

Jacquie Benestante

Jacquie is Director of Advocacy & Outreach at the Autism Society of Texas and the staff liaison for this volunteer committee. She serves on the Autism Society of America’s Public Policy Advocacy Committee and is on the steering committee for Texans For Special Education Reform. She is also in the 2018-19 class of Texas Partners in Policymaking. Jacquie has two family members with autism and is honored to advocate for the needs of autistic children and adults.

Irma Canfield

Irma has been a caregiver for her youngest son Steven for over 30 years, whom was diagnosed with Autism and Down Syndrome at an early age. She has been recognized by advocacy organizations such as the Gordon Hartman Foundation, Molina Healthcare and the Autism Society of America for giving back to the greater community with valuable resources and parent knowledge. Eva’s Heroes calls her a “super-mom” for her volunteerism. She continues to serve as co-chair to the Planning Network Advisory Committee, resource consultant for Texas Parent to Parent, and serves on the committee for Autism Lifeline Links Public Policy, featured in a December 2018 interview with the San Antonio Express-News.

Maverick Crawford III

Maverick Crawford III is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio and is currently a graduate student. He is in the 2018-2019 Texas Partners in Policymaking class and is employed as both a federal agent with the US Courthouse and a volunteer advocate with Texas Disability Rights. He is a humble and ambitious individual diagnosed with autism and is a dedicated advocate for those with autism and their families.

Gloria dela Garza-Rankin

Gloria is a special education advocate, disability rights advocate, and an active community volunteer. As a Texas Partners in Policymaking graduate (2017-18) and mother to two boys with autism, she advocates at the local, state and federal levels. Gloria encourages our legislators to support policies that allow those who are differently abled to have what they need to reach their full potential in life. 

Ann Hart

Ann Hart is a board member of the Autism Society of Texas and also a member of the Texas Autism Council.  She has been involved in autism advocacy at some level for almost 30 years. In 2015 Ann was named Autism Society of America’s National Volunteer of the Year. Ann and her husband, Dave have a 33-year-old son with autism as well as an adult son and an adult daughter who are not disabled.

Bianca Ramirez

Bianca is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and the Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the Autism Society of Texas. A passionate human rights advocate and activist, she is the single parent of a son on the autism spectrum and is on the Board of Directors for the Autism Society of Texas. She graduated with honors from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a Master of Social Work degree in August of 2016, and received her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Our Lady of the Lake University in 2013. Bianca has written several articles on the topics of autism spectrum disorder and child care. Her work has appeared in the San Antonio Express News, the Rivard Report, the Houston Chronicle, and the Texas Tribune. She is in the 2018-2019 Texas Partners in Policymaking class and is also currently working on her clinical license to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

Sal Silinonte

After years of testing and receiving a variety of mental and behavioral health services throughout my childhood, Sal became fascinated with psychology and with the idea of helping people like him who didn’t quite fit the mold. Once Sal earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Stony Brook University, he moved on to study applied behavior analysis (ABA) in graduate school. It was during this time that he finally learned (25 years after his initial misdiagnosis) that he’s autistic. The revelation helped to direct his passion for helping others into doing everything he can for his community; especially if it means being able to help the next generation of kids on the spectrum. In addition to working as a pediatric behavior therapist while in the final stages of earning a graduate degree in ABA, he is also an administrator for an online support group for autistic adults. He also proudly serves on the Autism Society of Texas Board of Directors, and on the Autistic Adult Advisory Panel as liaison to the Board of Directors. It is his hope that sharing the panel’s insights into the neurodivergent point of view will aid the Autism Society of Texas in their endeavor to best serve the autistic community.