A Brief History

It just occurred to me that 2016 marks the 20th year anniversary for Autism Tennessee (formerly, Autism Society of Middle Tennessee) and that many of our “newbies” might not be aware of our history. We are proud to be a grassroots organization serving the middle Tennessee autism community, and you couldn’t get much more “grassroots” than our beginnings!

In 1996 Laura Lloyd, one of the autism moms in our Parents of Autistic Children (PAC) Support Group, decided we needed a larger presence in order to spread awareness and connect individuals with resources in a more efficient manner than we were able to do through our relatively small group. Since there had been a previous chapter of the Autism Society of America (ASA) in Nashville, which was currently inactive save for some paperwork and a small bank account, she decided to reapply to ASA for chapter status.

It was a time-consuming and sometimes challenging task, but Laura was determined to make it happen, and she did! She gathered together a distinguished group of professionals and parents to form the first Board of Directors, completed all the paperwork necessary to regain chapterhood and establish the organization as a non-profit, opened a bank account, and started advertising our presence wherever she could find someone willing to post a flyer. And then she started taking calls out of her kitchen! Meanwhile, she formed an alliance with the Tennessee Disability Coalition and was soon able to rent office space in their building on Craighead Street and hired her first employee, Parent Rep Tonya Mirtes.

When Tonya went on maternity leave in 1998, I came on board to “fill in” until she came back. I remember that first “office” as being a converted walk-in closet into which we crammed two desks, a credenza, a bookcase of library books, and a couple of chairs. It was cozy, to say the least! In subsequent years, once Tonya came back (and since I never left!), we expanded our office space to first a three-room area (it was like moving into a mansion!) and later an even larger room at the same address. Under Laura’s tutelage we initiated many of the programs that are still running successfully today, primarily the Education Series and the County Contacts.

During this expansion, Laura decided to move on to other pursuits, and a new Executive Director was eventually named. Amanda Peltz came to us straight from college as an intern and worked her way into the E.D. position. She was instrumental in guiding us to new levels of growth in the autism community and the disability community at large. When the TN Disability Coalition moved to its new location at 955 Woodland Street in East Nashville in 2007, we were able to move with them and settle into our current four-room suite of offices. In November, 2013 we took our organization to another level by rebranding ourselves as Autism Tennessee. Last year, however, was our biggest year of change, as Amanda and several others staffers left for other endeavors.

Even though our name, our logo, our location, and most of our staff have evolved over the years, our dedication to the autism community remains intact. During that challenging time of transition we still kept the doors open and the information flowing, a tribute to both Laura and Amanda (and our excellent Board of Directors), who knew that an organization is more than any one person or even group of people.

At the end of last year we added several new faces to our Autism Tennessee family, including Executive Director Babs Tierno, Program Director Lisa Cloud, and Administrative Assistant Sheila Shapley. If you’ve not met everyone yet, we hope you will do so soon either at one of our Education Series programs, Family Fun events, or with a visit to our office. We are excited about the future, and we plan to be here for you no matter what changes lay ahead. Thanks for being part of our family too!




    John Shouse | February 12, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    <3. Thanks for putting it down "on paper". Lots of smiles reading this.

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