Linda Walder Fiddle, founder of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, possesses singular optimism and vision when it comes to advancing the quality of life and citizenship for adults with autism spectrum disorders.

capacity building adult services, autism, volunteering, adult services

It all started in the year 2000, when her son, Danny, was only nine years old. A forward-thinking mother of a child on the spectrum, Linda found herself researching to locate a program where Danny would one day find the right kind of support as an adult. Although he was attending excellent school programs that supported his specific needs, her look into the autism adult services sector revealed a lack of options. “I was really alarmed, quite frankly,” says Linda, and what did exist for autism adult services was, “too few and far between.” A social entrepreneur at heart, this was her cue to initiate a foundation with a specific mission: to support adults with autism in all aspects of life, to expand their access to choices, and to do so in the communities where they live.

Starting a Movement

That same year, Danny passed away, but this did not prevent Linda from pressing forward with her vision. By 2002 the DJ Fiddle Foundation was established in memory and honor of her son. Today, the foundation has become a leader in how we can make capacity building work by providing the necessary tools and guidance to families, professionals, support providers, and adults with autism to be successful in their communities. This success is due in large part to the fact that Linda is deeply involved in the foundation’s activities. Initially, the organization offered grants to support the development of individual programs touching many aspects of adult life, recreation, employment, and education. With time, however, Linda knew that to truly expand options, she would need to identify methods for promoting large-scale improvement, rather than isolated “pockets of excellence” that didn’t move beyond the communities that create them. Her collaborative, hands-on process with the organizations she provided grants to led her to a logical next step: to move beyond funding programs on a traditional, one-year cycle to longer-term funding, to create what she calls “blueprints” for other communities.

Launch of DJ Fiddle Foundation’s Signature Programs

The result was the launch of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Signature Programs. These select adult autism programs, Linda says, serve as testing grounds in the development of  “a kind of recipe or template” that, once refining and finalizing, “grassroots organizations across the country may use to devise similar successful programs.” The foundation does this by partnering with service organizations that show particular expertise, and then by cultivating a program that is replicable in other communities. Linda knows that the process can take more than one twelve-month funding cycle, and so she is committed to developing models, if need be, for two or three years. “That way questions get answered,” she adds, “before releasing the blueprint to the community. We want to do this in a very conscious manner by striving for quality and sustainability.”

Looking Forward

This redirection in funding approach, Linda hopes, will provide the scale of change she has aimed to achieve since she first initiated the foundation. It’s a tall order, but Linda Fiddle has what it takes to bring her capacity-building services to the next level. She makes it work with an unwavering commitment to adults with autism and their concerns, a deep and natural understanding of how successful grassroots models work, and an enthusiasm for change that is irresistible and infectious to those around her.

Some examples of current Signature Program projects range from the initiation of a peer support group for older adults with autism who are 50+ years in age (located at the Global Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership in New York City), to creating a community grassroots resource guide and hotline (developed with the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities of New Jersey), to a health and wellness program for adults with ASD (at Chapel Haven programs for young adults in Connecticut and Arizona). To learn more about the details of these and additional Signature Programs, please contact the DJ Fiddle Foundation.

Valerie Paradiz, PhD, is the Editor-in-Chief of the ARI Adults with ASD eBulletin and serves as Director of the Autistic Global Initiative, a program of the Autism Research Institute that is staffed entirely by adults on the spectrum. She is also the director of Valerie Paradiz, LLC, a technical assistance consultancy for schools, agencies, universities, government agencies and corporations who wish to improve programs and services for individuals with autism (www.autismselfadvocacy.com).

Article Updated: May 2019