Foundation supporting adults living with autism funds ASU public policy research fellowship

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation celebrates 20th anniversary

April 28, 2022

Twenty years ago, Linda Walder wanted to create a lasting legacy for her son, Danny, who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) before his third birthday.

Danny never had the chance to grow up into the man his mother hoped he would become. He passed away at age 9. But as his mother cherished Danny’s memory, she learned that as they become adults, children diagnosed with ASD frequently do not receive important services to help them navigate through life. Many services are no longer available to them after age 18. Portrait of Toyosi Adesoye, The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation fellow at ASU for 2021-2022. Public policy graduate student Toyosi Adesoye is The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation fellow at ASU for 2021–22. Photo courtesy First Place AZ Download Full Image

Danny’s legacy lives on through The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, which Walder co-founded in 2002 as the first nonprofit and only all-volunteer-run organization in the nation to focus on adult autism. Among the many programs, services and research initiatives that the foundation funds is an Arizona State University public policy research fellowship dedicated to solutions that ensure available and affordable housing.

The foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary in April, during Autism Acceptance Month. One of its chief aims is to ensure important services, such as housing, are available to people living with autism throughout their adult lives.

ASU’s current foundation fellow, Toyosi Adesoye, will earn her Master of Public Policy degree in December 2023 from the School of Public Affairs, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The ASU fellowship was created in 2018 with funding from The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Adult Autism Public Policy Fellowship Fund.

Adesoye, who is ASU’s second Fiddle Fellow, works with the Watts-based Morrison Institute for Public Policy in collaboration with the First Place Global Leadership Institute. Adesoye is creating a national policy agenda and white paper to be distributed nationally and statewide to government agencies, lawmakers and policymakers.

Adesoye said the fellowship is a dream come true, an opportunity to serve neurodiverse people. The Place for Children with Autism defines neurodiversity as “the concept that when it comes to the human brain and nervous system, people don't all end up the same.”

“During the pandemic, I started looking into the availability of services for neurodiverse people. I began noticing the disparity between the support services available for adults and those available for children,” Adesoye said. “At the time, I was trying to help my friend secure both support and housing for her older brother, who is also on the spectrum. We both felt hopeless navigating the housing and support service system in California.

"I didn't know then that I would end up working with some of the most amazing, knowledgeable and empathetic people to create a program for affordable housing for neurodiverse adults.”

A partnership of two mothers

The First Place Global Leadership Institute is part of the charitable nonprofit, First Place AZ, which “offers supportive housing and a residential transition program for individuals living with autism and for other neurodiverse populations, as well as sites for education, training and creative inspiration,” according to its website.

Walder said she has known Denise Resnik, First Place AZ’s founder, president and CEO, since when both the foundation and a Phoenix-based organization Resnik co-founded, the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, were getting underway. Resnik’s son, Matt, is an adult with autism.

Portrait of Linda Walder, co-founder of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation.

Linda Walder, co-founder of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. Photo courtesy Linda Walder

“At that time, there weren’t many working with adult autism. She and I were among the few,” said Walder, who said she and Resnik began creating programs focusing on adults, as both saw how too many children with autism would grow up without reliable services.

Their initial partnership has blossomed over two decades into several successful collaborations on behalf of adults with autism, including the ASU Fiddle Fellowship.

Resnik described the First Place-Phoenix property as First Place AZ’s home and as a living, learning laboratory focused on determining what’s working and for whom, and what needs to work better to increase independence and life course outcomes for adults with autism.

“Since (First Place AZ’s) founding in 2012, the Global Leadership Institute has been focused on fueling a new generation of housing and community development,” Resnik said.

Research report focuses on barriers to affordable housing

Alison Cook-Davis, the Morrison Institute’s associate director for research, said the institute and the foundation's first ASU fellow, Pooja Paode, worked with First Place AZ to examine housing issues of adults with autism in 2019 and 2020. The institute developed a report, “A Place in the World: Fueling Housing and Community Options for Adults with Autism and Other Neurodiversities.

Following up on Paode’s research for “A Place in the World,” Adesoye’s paper’s tentative title is “Beyond Tolerance: Looking Beyond Barriers to Affordable Housing.” Cook-Davis said Adesoye’s paper is in the editing process and should be published before the end of the semester.

While researching, Adesoye found a program specifically designed for individuals with HIV/AIDS available through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development called Housing Options for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), and suggests that a similar program could be devised for adults with autism.

“She calls it HOPAIDD, Housing Options for Persons with Autism and Intellectual Developmental Disabilities,” Cook-Davis said.

Coordination of housing with other services adults with autism need is a key goal for the fellowship, Cook-Davis said, as they are often separately funded. These adults need to be able to establish their housing and other needs on their own, as their parents might not always be there to assist them, she said.

“It’s difficult for people with high needs to navigate housing, and if you don’t have services come along with you, it’s very problematic,” Cook-Davis said.

Resnik said The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation fellowship is an important part of First Place’s ongoing efforts in assisting adults with finding available and affordable places to live in concert with other vital services.

First Place AZ’s Maureen Casey, who directs the foundation's Center for Public Policy, said the public often doesn’t grasp how many needs of adults with autism must be attended to.

“People ask, why does it have to be housing and education and employment and health care?' Well, that’s because it’s all needed,” Casey said. “We say, folks with autism need more, and here are the supports they need, and how we can efficiently and effectively provide them, so they can make that progress.”

Listening to residents offered fellow insight

Adesoye said one of her most memorable days in the fellowship came one Friday afternoon when she listened to an audio interview with four residents at First Place-Phoenix in which the interviewer asked them what their hope is for the world.

“One of the residents said that he hoped people would understand that people with autism may not be able to do everything, but it doesn't mean that they can't do anything,” she said. “The residents went on to express that they hoped people would see them as people; be patient with them, stop stereotyping them, limiting them or being condescending towards them.”

Adesoye, who has a law degree, said since becoming a fellow, she has learned that “it is one thing to acknowledge the existence of neurodiverse people on a personal and societal level, but there is a step beyond that tolerance, and that step is acceptance, inclusion and love in every facet of society, and most definitely on a personal level. The residents at First Place taught me this, and I am forever grateful to them.”

Resnik praised Adesoye’s talent and dedication.

“Like many of our colleagues at First Place, she is out to change the world,” Resnik said. “We are eager to welcome more fellows and support the next generation of great leaders.”

Walder said Adesoye’s work is vital to enlighten those with the ability to effect change, not only in Arizona, but nationally.

“It will take a couple of years to get it rolling, but we’re on the way. Denise Resnik and The (Daniel Jordan Fiddle) Foundation have strong relationships,” Walder said. I foresee that we will again use this agenda and white paper developed by our fellow and collaborate with others to see the policymakers in Washington and elsewhere.”

Grateful to serve

Walder said she is “filled with gratitude” to be able to serve the autism community, whose members’ stories need to be told, through the foundation.

“There is more awareness (now), but these are people who, for a long time, have lived in the shadows. We need to create, first of all, the acceptance and value of people,” she said.

“I’m also proud of these endowment funds we established. They are the only ones at great universities focused on adult autism. You can have great grassroots programs, but they don’t last without funding,” Walder said. “Our organization is an all-volunteer organization. I feel fortunate that I can do it, that service, serving our world to make it a better place.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


SCETL, economics double major aims high

Jonah McCoy is going on to pursue PhD from University of Houston, credits academic rigor for his achievements

April 28, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Jonah McCoy is not shy about his academic achievements and career goals. Jonah McCoy ASU graduate Jonah McCoy is a double major in civic and economic thought and leadership and in economics. He aims at winning prestigious Leo Strauss Award. Download Full Image

I seek to become a peer with my mentors,” he said.

The Arizona State University graduate — an early adopter of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) program — is confident about his future. In the fall of 2022, Jonah will start his PhD in political philosophy at the University of Houston, a well-deserved recognition of his academic skills.

“Jonah's talent and commitment to the life of the mind were immediately apparent to all of us in those early days of SCETL, when Jonah was one of our first majors,” said Assistant Professor Karen Taliaferro, adding, “I have come to see how exceptional he is not only in his intelligence but in his determination and perseverance. Beyond this, he is a fundamentally kindhearted person.”

Born in Fresno, California, Jonah moved with his family to Nogales, Arizona, when he was in second grade. He says he knew at an early age that he would follow an academic career, and in 2017 he joined ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College as an economics major, but his path took a slight turn in the fall of that year.

Question: How did you learn about SCETL?

Answer: I walked by a flyer on campus promoting the Civic Discourse Project lecture series on “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity,” and I started attending the events. Then in the following summer, I enrolled in SCETL’s Summer Leadership Seminar “Shakespeare's Leadership Lessons” in Sedona, and it was delightful. That week, I met phenomenal people, including Cameron Vega and Robert Bartlemay, among others. That experience pushed me to enroll in CEL 100 with Professor Karen Taliaferro, who became a prominent figure in my life. Then came a course on religion with Professor Paul Carrese, and when I realized I was getting a major in civic and economic thought and leadership. One realizes one is in the right place. Things happen for a reason.

Jonah McCoy reads aloud from "Henry V." during the summer of 2018 course in Sedona

Jonah McCoy reads aloud from Shakespeare's "Henry V" during the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership's summer 2018 course in Sedona, Arizona.

Q: Which course was your favorite?

A: I can’t say there was a SCETL course that wasn’t phenomenal.

Q: What makes SCETL so special?

A: It’s a community of like-minded individuals. We are all interested in these important topics in a department that encourages free and open debate. We are free to disagree and discuss everything. At SCETL, I have never met slouchers. Every student at the school is a mover and shaker. Everyone goes on to do big things, to become student body presidents, top-level students participating in big projects that matter, and so on. Ultimately, it’s the quality of students. SCETL doesn’t attract mediocrity. They are all bright, genuinely phenomenal individuals, and do amazing things. SCETL people think big and have big dreams. It comes from the faculty. They are all intentionally here to provide an education, not just a degree.

Q: How did your peers push you forward?

A: At SCETL, one can’t be intellectually complacent because one is surrounded by great thinkers. The debates we engage with at the school challenge you, and you will be called out if you say nonsensical claims. This community of thinkers encourages you to substantiate yourself.

Q: Did you ever think you would pursue a career in classical education?

A: My understanding at the time was that classical education was in full retreat across the country when I came in. And today I am who I am, and I am going where I am going because of SCETL’s faculty. I will receive a doctorate degree fully funded from the University of Houston, and I am grateful to Professor Michael Zuckert, who identified in me the potential to do it. He found a place that is amicable to me and went out of his way to help find a good fit for me.

Q: What is your goal?

A: I want to teach at a place like SCETL. It’s the only thing I see myself doing: teaching at a place like this, surrounding myself with pupils and seeking truth through dialogue and inquiry.

Q: What would you say to an incoming SCETL student?

A: Embrace this small, phenomenal community. Go to the events, become the spirit of it. Making connections with your peers is one of the most important parts of this education. It’s a fantastic cohort.

Q: What is your favorite part about SCETL?

A: The faculty. If SCETL didn’t believe in the education it offers, it could not be what it is, and students would not go as far as they go.

Q: What is the biggest takeaway from your experience as a SCETL major?

A: The absolute beauty of political philosophy, which led me to become a Tocqueville scholar.

Q: What is your bedside-table favorite Tocqueville book?

A:The Ancient Regime.” It’s his most important book, in my opinion.

Q: What comes after your doctorate degree?

A: That’s easy. The Leo Strauss Award from the American Political Philosophy Association for my dissertation. I am interested in breaking trends and going off to do something new with bold ideas.

Marcia Paterman Brookey

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership