Construction of Giant Steps Autism Centre gets underway

Ground broken for comprehensive new facility at Technopôle Angus

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Dec. 13 marking the start of construction of the Giant Steps Autism Centre, a new facility that supporters say will make Quebec a leader in autism education, research and services across Canada.

Excavation work began this month and the doors of the centre are scheduled to open in the summer of 2023. A state-of-the-art building with a surface area of 66,500 square feet is being erected in the Technopôle Angus neighbourhood of the City of Montreal’s Rosemont district.

Designed by the architectural firm Provencher Roy, the centre will be meeting specific sensory and perceptual needs of autistic people, particularly in terms of the organization of spaces, the choice of materials and the types of lighting used.

Focused on four services

The Giant Steps Autism Centre will offer lifelong services grouped into four areas: the Giant Steps School, the Adult Education and Employment Centre, the Resource and Community Centre and the Research and Innovation Hub.

Officials from the Quebec government, from the Giant Steps School and from Technopôle Angus are seen here on Dec. 13 ceremonially turning the first ground for the future Giant Steps Autism Centre in the Rosemont district of Montreal.

With a major investment of $15 million by the Quebec government as well as contributions from donors from the private sector and the autism community, 84 per cent of the total fundraising goal has been reached, although more than $7 million is still to be raised.

As part of the ‘Take a Giant Step for Autism’ fundraising campaign which is still underway, the organization is looking to raise the balance in the private sector as well as from the federal government.

‘Simply delighted,’ said Metropolis Minister

“A few weeks after announcing the government’s investment in the construction of the Centre À pas de Géant, we are already at the ground-breaking, and I am simply delighted,” said Minister Responsible for the Metropolis and the Montréal Region Chantal Rouleau who was among those attending the groundbreaking.

“I am very proud that this project is taking root here in Montreal, at the heart of one of our most inclusive living environments,” she added. “This centre, which will reach many young people and adults with autism, will benefit their close friends and loved ones, their families, and the entire community.”

A ‘milestone,’ said Roberge

“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,” Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge said in a statement.

“These young people will soon have access to a school environment designed and built with their specific needs in mind. I am very happy for the young people who will attend this school. The support they will receive there will enable them to develop their full potential.”

“It is a real pleasure for us to welcome and contribute directly to the development of this unique project, which is so close to our hearts,” said Christian Yaccarini, president and CEO of the Société de développement Angus. “The start of construction is just one of the major steps ahead that will reinforce our pride in being part of it.”

More inclusive society

Among autism experts and community supporters, there is a growing conviction that autistic adults have the potential to become active members of the workforce and to contribute actively to the post-Covid economic recovery now getting underway, as well as the development of a more inclusive society.

While news report suggest that a critical labour shortage is holding back the province’s economic recovery, supporters from the autism community say a surprising majority of adults with autism (approximately 86 per cent) are still unemployed or are underemployed.

However, they add, many employers who have hired autistic individuals report above average overall job performance, less absenteeism, higher levels of accuracy in their tasks and other positive qualities. They say there are also many positive impacts on company culture, on the pride of other employees, on a company’s image and even on customer loyalty.

Building for the future

Having already assisted many autistic adults find employment with Quebec companies, Giant Steps administrators say they are determined to continue in this direction. They believe that by helping people with autism build on their positive characteristics and strengths, sharing their knowledge, and partnering with businesses and organizations, they will create a more inclusive society and new opportunities for everyone.

Construction of the Giant Steps Autism Centre is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2023.

“There is a clear business case for hiring autistic individuals,” said Andre Pereira, Project Manager – Employment Initiatives at Giant Steps School. “This is not about charity or social responsibility, but rather about creating a more diversified workforce with employees who think outside the box, are loyal, productive and detail-oriented.”

A unique approach

Giant Steps has been regarded as one of the leaders in autism education for more than 40 years. The school’s intensive educational and therapeutic programs, offered in both French and English to 90 students ages 4 to 21, are recognized as unique in Quebec and have been emulated worldwide.

“Giant Steps provides a learning environment where the diversity and unique strengths of each individual are celebrated,” said Thomas Henderson, director-general of Giant Steps School. “Today’s event reminds us that we will soon be able to do more and better to enable people with autism to develop to their full potential.”