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Work to start this month on new $50-million autism centre in Montreal


Ground was broken Monday on a new $50-million autism education centre its proponents say will make Quebec "a leader in autism education, research and services."

Excavation work will begin this month on the Giant Steps Autism Centre, a 66,500-square-foot building in Montreal's Technopole Angus neighbourhood in Rosemont. The design was specifically catered to the sensory and perceptual needs of people with autism.

"It’s huge -- I mean, not only are we going to be able to do more, but we’re going to be able to do better," said Giants Steps school director general Thomas Henderson.

"So I think it’s about rethinking how we deliver autism services." 

The Quebec government earmarked $15 million for the centre in August and Giant Steps said 84 per cent of the total fundraising goal has been reached to make up the difference. Proponents of the project are looking to raise $7 million to reach the goal.

"This is a major milestone, not only for the Giant Steps Centre but also, and especially, for young people living with an autism spectrum disorder and for their families," said Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge.

"These young people will soon have access to a school environment designed and built with their specific needs in mind." 

The centre is scheduled to open in the summer of 2023.

It will expand schooling for students aged four to 21 (120 students, up from 90), add an adult education and employment centre (100 adults, up from 20), include a resource and community centre, as well as a research and innovation centre.

The new centre will replace the current Giant Steps building in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. 

Mayada Elsabbagh of the Transforming Austism Care Consortium (TACC) said the network, which brings together multi-disciplinary researchers in the challenges confronting autism, is excited to be working with "a living lab" to remove conventional boundaries between research and the school system.

"It's a game-changer actually," she said.

Kenza Deschenes-Kherchi has Asperger syndrome and attended the Giant Steps in NDG from 1997 to 2011 from age five to 19 years old.

"It will be really perfect for the clientele of autism," she said. "It will be like no sensory overwhelm, [and] adapted rooms."

Attending the centre "helped me a lot in many ways, like social, cognitive and motor and language, because when I was younger I was globally delayed," said Deschenes-Kherchi, who said she is excited that the new facility will help adults with autism as well as students. 

"They really need places for autistic adults," she said. Top Stories

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