Our Story

Connecting Families to Answers that Matter.

We are Autism Pensacola, a Florida 501(c)3 non-profit organization serving the families of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Since 2002, we’ve served individuals and families affected by autism as the leading connector and resource for autism support, advocacy, education and networking opportunities in the Pensacola Bay Area.

Through active engagement with our community, Autism Pensacola aims to:

  • Educate the general public about autism
  • Serve as a support group and network for parents and professionals
  • Provide information to parents and professionals regarding the diagnosis, education and treatment of persons with autism
  • Advocate for, and obtain, better services for the citizens of the Pensacola area who are affected by autism
  • Provide social opportunities for people with autism through camps, activities and enriching programs

As a community connector, we are a beacon of light in the darkness, and a source of answers in all the uncertainty. Along with our partners, members and supporters, we are connecting people to answers that matter, working to improve lives and livelihoods, one family at a time.

We want to change the way our community thinks and feels about autism. Relationships drive our mission to maximize access to the best care and support for individuals and families affected by autism. As the largest network of parents, physicians and supporters in the community, we are helping families maximize and realize their potential to prosper, shifting the conversation from mission impossible, to mission achievable. Together, we help families connect the pieces.

Principles that Guide Us —


We are hope, love, compassion and a voice of empowerment. As navigators, advocates and educators, we demystify the autism diagnosis and connect those impacted by autism to a full circle of resources—from early diagnosis and education to support for the quality of life of adults—who then contribute back to our mission.


We aim to spread hope for the autism community while serving as a beacon for those searching for answers.


We welcome all who come to us with open arms, seeking to understand and provide customized support for each family’s unique circumstances.

Commitment to Education.

Education is at the core of what we do; we educate ourselves, the public, and people and families affected by autism spectrum disorder.

The Power of Advocacy.

As a voice for the autism community, we advocate for who and what is important.


We put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of others, living this value and empowering others through the words “You are not alone.”


Our resources and volunteers are highly qualified and specialists in their field, providing top-notch care and techniques to the families we serve.


The people involved with our organization embody a ‘never give up’ attitude.


We teach and practice the spirit of inclusivity that extends beyond our organization into the community.


Autism Pensacola has grown due to the commitment and contribution of its board members through strong and thoughtful leadership and governance. We thank our current and past board members for their continued support.

We invite you to meet our Board of Director.


Cate Merrill

President & CEO

Cate Merrill has been selected to serve as president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Autism Pensacola, Inc. (API). She succeeds Susan Byram, the founding director.

Prior to pursuing a bachelor’s of science in Speech Pathology and Audiology, the Pensacola native attended Washington High School. Cate received a Master’s in Communication Disorders from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. Following graduate school, she gained experience within many different settings and populations including children and adults with various communication needs. These experiences led her to a path that focused on early intervention.

While living in the Mississippi Delta region, Cate identified a critical need for therapy services. She began a small business that focused on providing early intervention speech, language, occupational, and physical therapy. Upon moving back to the Pensacola area, Cate worked in the Escambia County School District. Her passion has always been working with families, and certainly addressing the challenges faced by the families affected by autism. “These families are all as diverse as their kids. There is not a prototype. Their financial situations, skills, and abilities have a range as great as the rest of the population, which makes their needs as diverse as they are. The most satisfying part of my job has always been my ability to support families through their diagnosis and steer them in directions most appropriate for their child and their family’s needs.”

Her relationship with Autism Pensacola began in 2008 when she accepted the request to serve on the Board of Directors. In 2013, she chaired the annual Connecting the Pieces gala. Cate has three children: Kit, Caroline, and Collier Jr.

Meet the Board.

The Autism Pensacola board is divided into three classes. Each Fall, Autism Pensacola members elect a class of directors to serve for three years. The board then elects officers and the executive committee at the first full board meeting following the general election in October.

Executive Committee for 2020


Mallory Studer, Chair

Community Volunteer

Kat Lea, Vice Chair

VP of Sales and Marketing, JELCO

Candy McGuyre, Secretary

Corporate Director of Marketing, Baptist Health Care

Rocky Parra, Treasurer

Autism parent and community volunteer

At-large members

Sergio Peñaloza

Vice President, Cox Communications Engineering and Operations Southeast Region

Joe Webb

Vice President Sales Marketing, FSIGroup

Becca Boles, Past Chair

Corporate Communications Director, Gulf Power Company

Jodi Bell, Past Chair

Director of Advertising, Pensacola News Journal

Class of 2020

Dr. Leasha Barry
Jodi Bell
Emily Kennedy
Kevin Nelson
Sergio Penaloza
Sue Straughn
Joe Webb

Class of 2021

Becca Boles
Debbie Keremes
Candy McGuyre
Ryan O’Connell
Sharon Thompson
Lauren Williams
Jacqui O’Connell
Cat Outzen
Stephanie Goodman
Aileen Ilano
Council Representative

Class of 2022

Mallory Studer
Kat Lea
Rocky Parra
Harriett Wyer
Laverne Baker
Amie Remington

Emeritus Members

Judy Burns
Logan Fink
Rishy Studer
Quint Studer

2020 Board Meeting schedule

Executive Committee
Autism Pensacola Office

2/13/2020  12:00 pm
5/28/2020  12:00 pm
9/24/2020  12:00 pm
11/05/2020 12:00 pm

Full Board
5eleven Palafox

2/26/2020 12:00 pm
4/01/2020 12:00 pm
6/24/2020 12:00 pm @ Camp
8/05/2020 12:00 pm
10/07/2020 12:00 pm
12/02/2020 12:00 pm


Our History: Susan’s Story

Susan Byram, Past President & Co-Founder

Susan’s adventures in autism first began in 1994, when her eldest son, David, was diagnosed at the age of four. Like many parents, Susan found herself thrust into a strange new world filled with questions and uncertainties but also a strong desire to connect with others.

Susan began to learn about autism and to reach out to others living with autism to share that knowledge. Joining together, they discovered answers to those questions, and the initial weight of uncertainty was lifted; replaced with hope, determination and a feeling of promise and potential.

With the help of friends, colleagues and a growing connection to families and resources, Susan soon found herself at the center of a growing passion for autism education, advocacy, and networking. Applying her experience in elementary education, Susan was an instrumental figure in the development of programs to help her son, David—and others like him—in the community and beyond. Shortly after moving to Pensacola in 2001, Susan worked with community members Jacqui O’Connell, Marilyn Irby, Dr. Ben Renfroe as well as local agencies, FSU-Center for Autism and Related Disabilities and ARC Gateway, to establish Autism Pensacola in 2002, and was part of the organization until her retirement in 2018.