College of Arts & Sciences’ Center for Autism and Related Disabilities Receives $100,000 from Fiddle Foundation to Support Adult Programs

The University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) received a generous donation of $100,000 from the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation (DJFF) to support its programs and services for adults living with autism.

Housed in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Psychology, UM-NSU CARD is a state-funded resource and support program dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism and related disabilities including deaf-blindness and pervasive developmental disorders. CARD provides support and services to more than 8,500 individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families each year.

Linda J. Walder (second from left), founder and
president of the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation;
and Dr. Michael Alessandri (far right), executive
director of CARD, with staff and clients of CARD’s
Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and
Adult Programs initiative.

CARD’s Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and Adult Programs initiative will unite the two organizations’ shared vision: to create and expand replicable models that provide opportunities for adults living with autism to have the best possible lives.

The Fiddle Foundation is the nation’s first non-profit organization focused on adults living with autism spectrum disorders. Founder and President Linda J. Walder was inspired by her son, Danny, to create an organization that would serve individuals with autism as they transitioned to adulthood. Danny tragically passed away at age nine.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with CARD (and Executive Director) Dr. Michael Alessandri, a visionary in the field of autism for over 25 years who has created innovative transition, employment and recreational programs that benefit thousands of people in Florida – and we look forward to addressing additional needs, including housing, with the support of DJFF," Walder said.

Alessandri – who also serves as assistant chair and clinical professor of psychology and pediatrics in the Psychology Department – noted that CARD’s funding from the Department of Education is restricted to individuals who are in school; this makes the support from DJFF crucial, as CARD is mandated to provide lifespan services. He added that 41% of CARD’s current clients are over the age of 16.

Researchers estimate that 500,000 individuals will reach age 21 and “age out” of government-sponsored autism programs over the next decade.

“We are grateful to The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation for its generous gift to CARD. It will help support our existing programs and help stimulate exploration, discussion, and action on a range of solutions for housing, employment, health care and legal issues,” Alessandri said.

CARD will use the funding to explore more innovative approaches to various issues:

* Employment programming, including education, training and mentorship on microenterprise to help families explore this employment path for adults living with autism.

* Community-based leisure programming, including peer-to-peer social opportunities, art programs, and more.

* Long-term solutions to the challenges of full community inclusion for adults living with autism.

* Workshops addressing legal, financial and self-advocacy initiatives.

Since its establishment in 2002, DJFF has helped to develop, advocate for, and fund innovative programs and resources for adults living with autism. These include residential and employment programs, training for students in transition, health/wellness initiatives, music and art programs, outdoor activities, and social/relationship opportunities.

The Foundation has also pioneered resource materials – such as booklets on topics including Autism and Epilepsy, and a handbook for college students on the autism spectrum – that address critical issues and are offered to the public free of charge.

Linda J. Walder is a leading national advocate for adults living with autism. She has been instrumental in developing public policy that addresses the needs or all people living with autism and their families.

January 21, 2015