Enriching the lives of adults with autism

By Deserae E. del Campo

Enriching the lives of adults with autism

By Deserae E. del Campo
The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation and UM-NSU CARD celebrate over 20 years of supporting the autism community in South Florida

For over 20 years, the collaboration between the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation (DJFF) has remained true to its mission: To provide adults with autism a sense of purpose in their efforts to work and contribute to society.

That mission found its roots in 2014 when the DJFF made a generous donation of $100,000 to UM-NSU CARD to help establish The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and Adult Programs. The initiative provides employment readiness programming and training for adults on the spectrum and offers businesses support to understand the unique needs of their employees with autism.

Linda Walder and Michael Alessandri

“The partnership we have with UM-NSU CARD creates job opportunities for adults with autism while also providing them with a sense of independence and purpose,” says Linda Walder, the founder and executive director of the DJFF, which was founded in 2002 to support and advocate for adolescents and adults with autism. “We collaborated with UM-NSU CARD because they are an accomplished organization creating programming that addresses the needs of families with children on the spectrum. Their mission aligns with ours, and it was the perfect opportunity to create a life-long partnership.”  

“With the support of the DJFF, our team received the validation we needed to know we were indeed on the right track in terms of our programmatic offerings for teens and adults,” says Michael Alessandri, a professor and assistant chair for community outreach and engagement in the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences Department of Psychology and who serves as executive director of UM-NSU CARD. “But with Linda Walder’s spirit, creativity, and gentle guidance, we have reached heights we might never have imagined.”

“We now have a full suite of transition and adult programs that focus on social, employment, and life skills for our clients as well as support services for their families and programmatic support for their providers,” he continued.

For over the past 30 years, UM-NSU CARD has supported and assisted more than 15,000 families affected by autism or a related disability. Families from Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties who join UM-NSU CARD, receive step-by-step assistance that includes referrals for speech therapists, behavioral analysts, neurologists, pediatricians, family support groups, and more.

Fiddle checkWith the generous donation made by the DJFF, UM-NSU CARD established the Job SEEKers (Seeking and Enhancing Employment Knowledge) program, which is an employment readiness program for autistic adults. The program integrates the introduction of employment skills and social skills training for competitive employment in businesses within South Florida with the goal of providing adults with autism with a sense of purpose and participation.

Nathalie Stanish, manager of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and Adult Programs, says her top priority when meeting with individuals and families is to create a space for them to feel seen, heard, and supported.

“What sets UM-NSU CARD apart from the community is we take the time to connect and engage with our families and meet them where they are in their journey,” says Stanish. “This resonates with me because my family is registered with UM-NSU CARD. I am the proud sibling of an autistic adult. This organization is a vital part of my brother's journey. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to work for an organization that is a pillar of support for my family.”

Although there are numerous resources for individuals and families, Walder knows that a few challenges still need to be tackled, such as efforts to implement more affordable housing for individuals on the spectrum and create inclusive communities where people with autism are valued.

“The vision never falters,” says Walder. “Every person has their own sets of challenges, but when you create opportunities where you open doors for people, they have a chance to excel and live their best lives. Individuals with autism have the right to participate, explore, and co-create in the community. The Fiddle Foundation and UM-NSU CARD both envision a world of inclusion and acceptance for those on the spectrum.”

To make a donation to The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Transition and Adult Programs, click here.