Tonya Haynes

A mother’s intuition leads to a life of advocacy

Tonya Haynes' Autism Speaks Champion of Change headshot

Tonya Haynes is a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the College of Nursing and mother of Tyler Haynes. Since Tyler’s diagnosis of autism in 2003, Tonya has prioritized efforts aimed at enhanced understanding of how autism impacts her son and what she can do to help him reach his full potential.

With an acute eye for detail, Tonya noticed subtle deviations in Tyler's development around 16 months of age, prompting her to embark on a proactive journey of tracking his milestones and seeking collaboration with other parents, experts and physicians. This dedication led to the crucial diagnosis of autism around the age of two, marking the beginning of a path illuminated by early intervention and tailored support.

Recognizing the importance of early intervention, and through the help of resources made available by Autism Speaks, Tonya spearheaded initiatives to ensure Tyler received the necessary services and support systems, forging partnerships with academic and community resources. Through a process, she identified strategies that resonated with her son’s unique needs, crafting a plan that evolved throughout each stage of his life.

As Tyler progressed through his academic journey, Tonya observed his blossoming social skills and vibrant personality, nurturing his interests and aspirations. With the support of his mom, Tyler was accepted into the University of Missouri - St. Louis SUCCEED Program, a Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Program designed to support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they participate in the college experience.

As a professor of nursing at UMSL, Tonya serves as the Director of Clinical Operations, delivers both undergraduate and graduate-level instruction, and supports department and campus-level initiatives and programming. Her job helps leaders of tomorrow further their education and allows her to be close to her son, who works at the school’s recreation center.