ASU is now the fifth university in the nation to partner with The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, which began in honor and memory of Danny Fiddle in 2002, and was the first organization to focus exclusively on adult autism.
The foundation started an endowment fund at ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions with a focus on public policy aiming to create a wide array of opportunities and support for individuals diagnosed with autism and their families.
Linda Walder, founder and executive director of the foundation, said she started the organization with hopes to find and create solutions for the challenges of adult autism.
"We decided to focus on this because no one else was," she said. "There was a perception that this was a childhood challenge, but the reality is: it's a lifetime challenge. We aimed to establish an organization that was focused on the answer to those questions."
The four other endowment funds are at Yale University, Brown University, Rutgers University and the University of Miami, and each fund focuses on a different aspect of adult autism.
Matthew Ingram, director of development for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, brought together the partnership between the foundation and ASU through connections with the Watts College, Walder and Denise Resnik of First Place.
First Place, a group that aims to foster connections within the community, works to ensure that those with adult autism have quality housing options.
The fund furthers the mission the Watts College pursues in "developing and implementing solutions to some of our communities' most vexing issues," Ingram said, and embodies one of the goals in ASU's charter to assume responsibility for the well-being of the community it serves.
Ingram said the partnerships between ASU, First Place and The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation exemplify innovation at work at the Watts college.
"Adults with autism are a very underserved community, and because of (the Watts College) solutions-based approaches, folks like Denise and Linda have sought us out to help them achieve the impact they are striving for," he said.
For groups on campus that support those with autism, the establishment of the fund represents that the University acknowledges a broader understanding of autism and how it still affects people into their adulthood.
One of the groups, Autistics on Campus, aims to foster social relationships and promote advocacy work for those with autism.
Maria Dixon, clinical associate professor in speech and hearing sciences and faculty advisor for Autistics on Campus, helped two college students with autism establish the group after they approached her to receive speech and language therapy, hoping to improve their connection with the campus community.
Dixon said the fund's focus on public policy is exciting because policy can have significant impacts on families and people with autism, but often does not get enough attention.
"I talk with families looking at public policy and what it says about the rights of being adults," she said. "Some adults with autism might be under guardianship of their parents for longer or forever, so they worry about what's next as their parents and siblings age, and they worry about their independence."
Dixon said the fund's policy focus also goes hand-in-hand with aspects that club members weigh on a regular basis.
"They do think about some of those policy issues like disability rights or access to live fully optimal lives, be independent and how different laws might effect them," she said. "And about what their disability means in being an adult and the policies that come with health and education."
Beyond ASU, leadership at The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation hope the fund will help bring "pockets of excellence" throughout the state and the country together.
By shedding light on the collaboration and the lifelong needs and policy issues regarding adult autism that need to be addressed, Walder said the partnership aims to enhance public awareness.
"Autism is a lifelong challenge," she said. "We really hope to bring all of the great thoughts together."
Dixon said it is important to focus on adult autism and the impact that it has on individuals and their friends and families.
"It's really nice to see the focus or renewed focus on watching people age with autism, and the different issues that come up as people get older," she said. "I always say that children with autism become adults with autism."