CommunityWorks Canada: Government of Canada Announces Funding for Joint Venture between The Sinneave Family Foundation and Autism Speaks Canada

The Ability Hub logo
Sinneave Family Foundation logo

TORONTO, Feb. 13, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Sinneave Family Foundation (SFF) and Autism Speaks Canada (ASC) alongside the federal government of Canada and the Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, announced the funding of CommunityWorks Canada in the Economic Action Plan, 2014 Budget.

In Tuesday's budget speech, the Honourable Jim Flaherty, spoke of supporting programs that will help people with disabilities find jobs and stay employed. "We will also invest in programs to help young people with autism find rewarding jobs," said Flaherty. This announcement further speaks to the continued engagement of the federal government and MP Mike Lake, in advocating for and spreading awareness of the autism platform. "We applaud this government for placing autism initiatives at the forefront of the budget announcement," says Marc Murnaghan, Chair of the Board of Directors, Autism Speaks Canada.

The Sinneave Family Foundation and Autism Speaks Canada are partnering with many organizations to build a national, networked program entitled CommunityWorks Canada. This program will increase and sustain labour force participation among youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by building employment and life skills in the important time period between the ages of 12 and 24 years. This program will train many young Canadians with disabilities, including ASD, to become valued members of the labour force. "People with developmental disabilities have much to contribute in the Canadian labour market. Yet, existing research suggests that the rate of employment among this population is much lower than it needs to be. Opening doors of employment opportunity constitutes important steps forward. I applaud this initiative in its investment in labour market access and opportunity for Canadians with developmental disabilities," says Dr. David Nicholas, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex, neurodevelopmental disorder. Individuals with ASD often have communication difficulties, social impairments and restricted, repetitive and stereotypic patterns of behaviour. Over recent decades, the rate of ASD diagnosis has been climbing steadily. Recent estimates from the Centre for Disease Control's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network indicate that about 1 in 88 children has ASD.

CommunityWorks Canada is an evidence-informed vocational training program that helps youth and young adults make the transition to independent adulthood, higher education and/or employment success. It was developed at the Southwestern Autism Resource and Research Centre (SARRC) in Phoenix, Arizona, and has now been replicated in Calgary at the Sinneave Family Foundation's, The Ability Hub.

Over 500 individuals with ASD have been served through The Ability Hub and SAARC, with the assistance of close to 200 peer mentors. The participants have clocked over 40,000 community service hours. There have been significant positive outcomes noted through standardized outcome measurement of vocational success including: problem solving, staying on task, initiating social interaction, asking for assistance, and appropriately engaging in important social exchanges like hellos and goodbyes. As a result, many of the CommunityWorks participants in Calgary and Phoenix are now ready, willing and able to obtain meaningful employment. "This substantial output, personal and community development, and employment readiness comprises an important and efficient social return on investment," says Margaret Clarke, SVP, the Sinneave Family Foundation.

CommunityWorks includes a job training approach drawing on a peer support model of 1:1 peer mentors. Participants learn and practice social rules and procedures that are required for employment success. Mentors also gain valuable education and employment skills. Beyond training and practice gained by the individual with ASD, peer and community understanding is developed which in turn promotes wider acceptance through community integration and relationship building. "There needs to be a Network of agencies with public and private partnerships across Canada that can make access to appropriate opportunities available to everyone regardless of where in Canada they reside," says Dr. Wendy Roberts, Developmental Paediatrician, ISAND.

The Sinneave Family Foundation, Autism Speaks Canada and the federal government are united in the effort to create employment opportunities and ensure success for people with intellectual disabilities and those living with ASD through CommunityWorks Canada. "We have seen a real need to create opportunities for young adults with intellectual disabilities and ASD. CommunityWorks takes this idea further by providing support and ultimately ensuring success," says Jill Farber, Executive Director, Autism Speaks Canada.

"One of the best predictors of long-term stable employment is a history of part-time and volunteer work acquired during our teenage years. Many young people with ASD don't get this opportunity and CommunityWorks will help thousands of young Canadians get this important experience. We are very pleased to be part of bringing the program to Canada," says Tom Collins, President, the Sinneave Family Foundation.

CONTACT: Margaret Clarke: 403.210.5000 x 2011 Jill Farber: 416 362 6227 x 202 jillfarber@autismspeakscan.caSource: Autism Speaks Canada