When Calgarian Lynn LaForge-Tieman’s son James was diagnosed with autism at age four, she tapped into whatever supports and resources she could find to ensure the best life for him.
But as James grew older, Lynn realized there was a problem—the availability of help for those living with autism declined drastically once they turned 18.
Lynn passed away in 2007, and James is now 31. And because of her tireless advocacy for changes in the system—and her legacy fund—Calgary is today a better place for James and other adults living with autism.
Lynn’s husband, Hans Tieman, established the Lynn LaForge-Tieman Fund for Autism at Calgary Foundation to fund research and programs that support the needs of autistic adults.
“She was an ardent advocate for autism, be it petitioning school boards for funding or writing to Ottawa and spearheading the RDSP (Registered Disability Savings Plan). We had doctors and schoolteachers who would ask Lynn to talk to parents when they had a diagnosis of autism or needed residential care, so for us, it was natural to establish this Fund,” says Andrew Tieman, Lynn’s nephew and the Fund’s Advisor.
Andrew says Lynn was frustrated by the move from structured supports for children with autism to the type of adult programming available once they turned 18, when they were moved into an umbrella category of “disabled.”
“The structure (of the adult programs) is more social or group-based, but sometimes these people are not social or group-based,” Andrew says. “They need more one-on-one structure and support, so we said, let’s focus on adults.”
Autism Calgary was one of the first organizations to receive a grant from the Fund to further its community and education support services.
Dr. Adam McCrimmon at the University of Calgary also received funding for a collaborative research project on vocational and personal independence training for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder.
The Fund has also helped support job coaching and employment readiness programming by the Society for Treatment of Autism.
And the Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary has benefited from the Fund, too. The organization provides social and recreational opportunities for adults on the spectrum, as well as the VAULT (Varied And Unique Life Teaming) day program that offers adults on the spectrum group activities such as grocery shopping, cooking, volunteering and fun outings.
James himself has reaped positive benefits from the increased activities and programming available for adults with autism because of the Fund honouring his mother, Andrew says.
“She’d be thrilled. It has really allowed us to set up a legacy. It’s not just one-time giving; it provides a consistent and lifelong benefit to the community. It’s not just a name on a building—we are able to build and support and enrich the autism community in Calgary.”