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27 Mar, Monday
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Montreal Families

Autism centre one step closer to reality

The provincial government’s announcement of $15 million in funding is bringing the construction of the new state-of-the-art Giant Steps Autism Centre that much closer.

In a press conference on August 31, 2021, Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education and Ms. Chantal Rouleau, Minister of Transport and Minister responsible for the Metropolis and the Montreal Region, made the contribution pledge for the creation of the centre — a first of its kind in Canada.

The centre will give students the opportunity to thrive in what Giant Steps says will be “a model for autism services around the world and will make Quebec a leader in the field of autism education, research, advocacy and community service delivery.”

Greater services and facilities

With one in 66 Canadian children currently being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the number of children diagnosed with ASD in the past 10 years increasing by 154 per cent, the demand for services has increased dramatically. And it’s not limited to children; 86 per cent of autistic adults are unemployed and in need of preparation and support to enter the job force.

Leaders in education for students on the spectrum for the last 40 years, Giant Steps’ existing school has reached its capacity, forcing it to refuse nine out of 10 applicants each year. The school also lacks enriching and necessary spaces such as a gym and sensory rooms.

The new centre will serve a diverse range of ages through innovative programming and multi-use facilities. The expanded school will be able to increase its capacity by 33 per cent to 120 students annually, develop and implement innovative educational and therapeutic programs, and train future autism professionals. Classrooms will incorporate an observation room for professionals, a students’ alcove, and washrooms. The indoor gym will be used as a space for physical activity, a gathering spot, and a wintertime playground.

Photo credit: Provencher_Roy

Its Research and Innovation Centre will house a living lab for the development and testing of autism services, provide research infrastructure, and engage teaching and therapeutic staff in action-research initiatives.

And an expanded Resource and Community Centre will offer even more support for schools, daycare centres, and other organizations, provide community education and consultation services for families and professionals, and offer adapted sport, leisure, and recreational activities.

The Adult Education and Training Centre, with its individualized plans, will be able to help 50 adults — up from the current 12 — as they develop skills that lead to employment, as well as facilitating greater independence at home and in the community.

Photo credit: Provencher_Roy

“Providing higher-quality, evidence-based educational and community services to more children and adults on the spectrum is an absolute necessity,” said Thomas Henderson, Director General of Giant Steps. “With [the $10 million funding] we are one step closer to making our vision a reality.”

The all-in-one hub will be located on Molson St. in Rosemont’s Technopôle Angus, an urban revitalization project that follows the principles of sustainable development and social economy. The area includes workers, residents, commercial buildings, local services, and public spaces. Its on-site businesses will create an ideal partnership for the centre’s adult work-placement initiatives. The centre will be on approximately 65,000 square feet of land with the proposed three-level building and underground parking occupying approximately 67,000 square feet.

“We are pleased that Giant Steps is promoting neurodiversity in our community,” said Christian Yaccarini, President and Chief Executive Officer for Société de développement Angus. Community engagement and social innovation are values that have driven us for 25 years. We are proud to be part of this project. This shows that we can develop inclusive living environments for everyone, including those that are most vulnerable.”

Additional funding is still needed

Supporters of the new centre expressed their gratitude during the announcement of the funding. “With the unwavering support of our donors and community, now bolstered by this generous public funding, we are ever-closer to realizing the dream we’ve all hoped could one day become a reality,” said Co-Chair of the Giant Steps Autism Centre Capital Campaign Andrée Dallaire.

The latest funding brings the total secured for the project to $42 million. The Take a Giant Step for Autism campaign is now focusing on its final target by raising an additional $10 million, with the goal of starting construction in January 2022 with an anticipated move-in date for September 2023.

“We have assembled an outstanding team of volunteers who believe in this project and who are working hard to make it a reality,” added fellow Co-Chair André Bourbonnais. “The autism community deserves more. It is time that the public and private sectors come together for one final push to impact the autism community for generations to come. It is time to Take a Giant Step for Autism.”

About Giant Steps Montreal 

Founded in 1980, Giant Steps is a government-subsidized private school whose services are free of charge for families. Welcoming students aged 4 to 21, the school offers preschool, elementary, and secondary educational and therapeutic programs that are adapted to each child’s individual needs. Giant Steps collaborates with 14 school boards and partners with employers in multiple sectors to offer work experience programs to adults who are on the spectrum. The school is also the Quebec hub for the Federal Government’s Ready, Willing & Able program. The school currently has 90 students and an interdisciplinary team of more than 90 professionals.

Related read: New centre in N.D.G. for kids with special needs

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