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Giant Steps autism centre has new home after funding from Quebec, private donations


After decades in a smaller space "The Giant Steps Interdisciplinary Autism Centre" has a new home on Molson Street near the Angus Yards.

The $54 million project was completed with public and private money and is considered a first in Canada.

Their research indicates that currently, one in 50 Canadian children aged one to 17 are diagnosed with autism.

Giant Steps is a bilingual, state-of-the-art centre built to meet the needs of autistic individuals for their whole lives.

Thomas Henderson, the centre's director of innovation, said the people who use the space were consulted every step of the way.

"We were talking to the users, the families, the kids, the autistic adults as well and really did a deep dive into what are the needs in the community? What are the service gaps? How can we, as Giant Steps, step in and expand our services and better respond to needs of the community?"

Giant Steps received $18.7 million from the Government of Quebec as well as funding from parents of children who use the centre. (Christine Long/CTV News)

Elementary and high school-aged students have lessons and learning modules adapted to their specific needs. Each of the classrooms, music rooms and art rooms have natural light and calming colours.

Giant Steps staff says the best support for neurodiverse children and adults is to also take care of their families.

"They need help with finding resources, sometimes something as simple as where to go get a haircut? Where to go for a dentist? Parents who have a new diagnosis, it can be very hard, it can be hard on the couple, on the family and so that's what we're here for, to help the community," said Tania D'Alesio, Giant Steps' managing director.

Adult education and training prepare people like Charles Pereira for the workforce. Through Giant Steps, he already has The Queen Elizabeth Hotel on his resumé: a dishwashing gig.

Pereira also says the social aspect of the centre is pretty cool, too.

"My friends and I, we go outside to play stretch, move," he said.

Down the hall, 13-year-old Maxim Gianelli Mathieu is at the piano working on an original tune. He wants to be a musician or maybe even a reporter.

"I mostly do the media relations stuff because I'm a very good talker, compared to the rest of the autistic kids and you know I'm well media-trained and stuff," Gianelli Mathieu said.

The Giant Steps staff say they don't see the individuals' limitations, just their skills. Shonagh McCrindle is the director of adult education and employment services.

"We're also looking to make it personal to each individual that we accept into the program and make a plan that suits what their dream job might be and sort of make a pathway back from the dream job and into: what's your first job going to look like," McCrindle said.

This kind of support opens up a lot more options for people living on the autism spectrum and include them in the wider community.

"We were very fortunate; we received $18.7 million from the Quebec government, which was amazing and without them we wouldn't be here," said Andree Dallaire, co-president of Giant Steps.

"But we also received a lot of money from private foundations, companies, and the parents also. The parents from Giant Steps gave $1.7 million." Top Stories

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