2021 / 2022

Annual

Report

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a message from our

executive director & Board President

Greetings,


The 2021-2022 fiscal year barely needs an introduction, given the continuing realities of a global pandemic. These challenges presented Autism Ontario with opportunities to explore new and exciting ways to remain engaged with families, autistic adults, and community partners.


Our staff and volunteer leadership worked alongside our community partners to brainstorm creative solutions to help people in our community better manage the mental health challenges, isolation, and information gaps that resulted from COVID-19 restrictions. Our work never stopped, and indeed, it grew!


Through the report pages, you will quickly see that we were able to achieve impactful outcomes for people in areas we’ve chosen to support, such as caregivers, people on the autism spectrum, and those who support them. We’ve done this by focusing on meaningful information that parents and autistic people told us they needed in a timely manner and continuing to support these needs by advocating alongside people across their life course and demonstrating how that can be accomplished. Our online capacity exploded with more resources than ever before – through webinars, chat and support groups, and blogs, we offered opportunities for collective groups and individuals to be heard and understood.


Autism Ontario has always been about questions and changes – those we make for ourselves to better equip us to do our work and those that respond to the current and future realities of the service system in which the opportunities and gaps remain across Ontario. After many years of planning and consultation, we successfully implemented structural changes to Autism Ontario’s model from a chapter model to a regional model. This important change has allowed us to be more responsive to the needs of people in seven regions across the province to better reflect the diverse local and geographical realities of families.


We also changed the way we provide supports to families by incorporating paid Autism Ontario staff within our new model. Each of our seven regions is now staffed with paid Autism Ontario employees who support our volunteers and donors and the interests of families, autistic individuals, and community partners in those regions.


We also became AccessOAP partners together with lead organization, Accerta, and alongside Healthcare 365 and McMaster University in extending support to families through province-wide Care Coordination services of the Ontario Autism Program.

Marg Spoelstra

Executive Director

Kim Moore

Board President

In 2021-22, we were also excited to support the needs of autistic adults and their families with employment training and supporting people on the autism spectrum through publications that addressed autism-specific housing needs.


We met, surveyed, and worked with parents to respond with findings and position papers about family experiences that focused on the need for true accessibility in the K-12 school years and the transition from high school to adulthood.


There’s so much more to tell you about in the pages ahead. None of these accomplishments could have happened without the tremendous support we’ve been honoured to receive from our donors, our partners, our volunteers, and the diverse families, children, and adults who hold us to our vision of Best Life, Better World, Making Autism Matter.



Thank you!

welcome to autism ontario

who we are


A charitable organization founded in 1973. We have a history of over 49 years supporting, representing, and advocating for all autistic individuals across the province regardless of race, ethnicity, income, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

WHAT WE DO


We provide information on autism, support autism research, and implement programs and services for the autism community to address the issues that affect Ontarians with autism, their families, and their caregivers.

Our mission


Creating a supportive and inclusive Ontario for autism

Our vision


Best Life, Better World, Making Autism Matter!

SERVICES WE OFFER

  • Community events
  • CommunityConnect Portal
  • OAP Provider List
  • Provincial newsletter
  • Regional newsletters
  • Adult programs
  • Caregiver support groups
  • French Language Services
  • Regional supports
  • Learning and positive advocacy resources
  • Webinars and workshops
  • Child and family supports
  • March Break funding
  • Summer support funding
people infographic element

We are guided by a

Board of Directors with

12 diverse members – people on the autism spectrum, parents, caregivers, siblings

of autistic people, and professionals.

Hand Drawn Books Illustration

We are Ontario's

#1 source of information and referral on autism and one of the largest collective voices representing the autism community.

location
location
location

7 regions supporting people on the autism spectrum and their families across the province

Our care values

COLLABORATION

We believe in the power of working side by side with individuals, families, and communities to

make informed choices about autism.

C

ACCOUNTABILITY

We hold ourselves and others responsible for achieving successful outcomes through high

standards of integrity and fiscal responsibility.

A

RESPECT

We value equity, diversity, and inclusion, and we listen to understand.

R

EVIDENCE-INFORMED

We use and create knowledge to guide our decisions and work.

E

Board of Directors


Autism Ontario is guided by an elected Board of Directors composed of parents, autistic adults, and respected professionals. They provide governance, expertise, and direction to the organization on a volunteer basis.

  • Susan Boehnke, PhD
  • Dr. Barry Bruce, Treasurer
  • Julia Frei
  • Hadley Koltun
  • David Moloney
  • Kim Moore, Chair
  • Susan Morris, President
  • Tanya Rocca, Secretary
  • Dr. Sharon Smile
  • Audrey Susin
  • Sophia Tsouluhas
  • Lisa Vezeau-Allen, Vice-Chair

Land Acknowledgement


The Autism Ontario provincial office is located in Toronto, which is on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples, and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Williams Treaties signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands.

We recognize, however, that our staff, volunteers, members, and the wider community are located all over the province, on different Treaty lands. It is important to recognize that wherever we are in Ontario, we are located on the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples dating back time immemorial.


Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.

“Having an autistic advocate and professional involved in this workshop was so incredibly valuable to me. As a parent, it was extremely meaningful to have the opportunity to see both positive autistic representation and have the opportunity to hear from her about her own experiences. Many thanks to the team!”


– Autism Ontario Event Participant

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Language Statement


At Autism Ontario, we recognize that language is powerful. We understand that the language we use can educate, frame ideas and perspectives, and empower, but that it can also harm and stigmatize[1]. The use of referential language as it relates to autism is a sensitive, important, ongoing conversation.

The clinical model defines autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, as a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them. The Public Health Agency of Canada references the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in classifying autism as a disorder[2]. However, many autistic people prefer the terms neurological “difference” or “condition”, which remove the negative associations with the word “disorder”[3].


At Autism Ontario our goal is to support and advocate alongside all autistic individuals across the province, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, religion, or gender identity. We aim to actively and deliberately listen to and include all autistic community members to guide our choices relating to language.


We understand that many individuals in the autistic community prefer certain types of referential language[4], such as identity-first language (“autistic person” or “autist”) over person-first language (the terms “person with autism” or “person on the autism spectrum” are often used interchangeably).

Identity-first language reflects the belief that being autistic is an important part of a person’s identity. Person-first language, including phrases such as “living with autism”, reflects the idea that autism can be separated from a person. Results from a recent survey of over 7,000 autistic people suggest that approximately 90% of autistic people prefer identity-first language with a smaller proportion preferring person-first language[5].


According to the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance (CASDA), there is a growing body of scientific and community literature documenting the dislike, amongst autistic individuals, of person-first language and its potential for increasing stigma.[6] Disability scholars have also objected to the use of person-first language[7].


Although we acknowledge that there are varying beliefs within the autistic community about which language standards are ‘correct’, based on the existing literature on language preferences in the autistic community, Autism Ontario recommends using identity-first language (i.e., autistic person).

It is important to understand that each person may have a different preference for how they would like to be identified[8]. Autonomy and self-determination are the most important aspects to consider when talking about autism[9]. It is often best to ask an individual directly if they are comfortable telling you how they would prefer to be identified.


With the aim of being inclusive, respectful, and representative of the many people within our diverse community[10], we will use both identity-first and person-first referential language. We acknowledge that the use of language evolves rapidly and will continue to be an ongoing discussion within the autism community.

ten facts about autism

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that can affect body language and posture, social interactions and relationships, how someone engages with their interests, and sensory processing capacities. Autism exists on a spectrum, which means that while all people on the spectrum will experience some of the differences mentioned, the degree to which each autistic person experiences them and the amount of support they need will vary. This is sometimes influenced by whether the person has any co-occurring health conditions. It is also influenced by the accessibility and relative safety of the environment and society autistic people inhabit; a society that we all contribute to and live in.

our year in review

Virtual Celebrations for World Autism Day

In 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic still underway, Autism Ontario remained committed to engaging with families and individuals, employees, volunteers, partners, and donors across the province. During the pandemic we adapted to new ways of working, and our celebrations for World Autism Day were no exception. Even though COVID-19 changed how we celebrated, we still celebrated!


In the months leading up to World Autism Day, we asked our community what autism meant to them. We received insightful and inspiring responses from autistic adults, advocates, artists, children, and students, as well as family members and caregivers of autistic people.

On World Autism Day, April 6, 2021, we celebrated the live launch of What Autism Means to Us, a video collection centered on the autistic voices of our community.

Although our in-person Raise the Flag events could not take place, we encouraged our community to #RaiseTheFlagForAutism by raising a flag at home, printing and decorating their own flag, or entering the colouring contest – as well as by sharing their stories of community, acceptance, and inclusion.

We received so many incredible, thoughtful stories and photos of how our community celebrated World Autism Day on social media and over email. Despite being unable to connect and share in person, our community rallied together to increase understanding, acceptance, and celebration of autistic people to inspire a more inclusive world.

service navigation

Supporting Children, Families & Caregivers


This year, Autism Ontario’s Service Navigation Program continued to expand on its success with a variety of consistent support, services, online events, and program offerings as the COVID-19 pandemic continued. Service Navigators partnered with local businesses to provide families with innovative online supports and services as well as unique Social Learning Opportunities (SLOs) for parents and caregivers of autistic children to focus on their learning needs, make connections, and support caregiver education and empowerment.

Workshops, Webinars & Events


Autism Ontario offered a variety of engaging and relevant events, workshops, and webinars for children, parents, and caregivers. Some of the popular offerings provided to families this past year included virtual yoga classes, Zumba, music and movement, virtual karate, and dance nights to promote physical activity in the comfort of their homes. Other SLOs tapped into the creative pursuits of children and families, with offerings such as cooking classes, music programs, baking kits, wizard school, painting kits, drama classes, caregiver book clubs, mail-order mystery kits, and the ever-popular family trivia nights.

In a recent survey, 86% of participants said Autism Ontario events met or exceeded their expectations.

Support Groups

Through our partnership with SAAAC (South Asian Autism Awareness Centre), our CARES caregiver support groups continued with long waitlists and engaging, informative discussions with diverse participants across the province. CARES is an evidence-based eight-week curriculum support group focused on caregiver mental wellness and equipping parents and caregivers to better support their autistic children.

Webinars

Our team worked diligently to design interactive webinars that were easy to understand while providing parents, caregivers, and stakeholders pertinent information and resources. Webinars are evidence-based and presented by subject matter experts. There were many notable webinars offered this year, such as the four-part Girls and Teens webinar series with social worker Stephanie Moeser and self-advocate Lauren Portengen focusing on the healthy development of autistic youth and teenagers which had over 250 registrants.

With a strong focus on mindfulness and caregivers, Dr. Shiv Sivapalan and Dr. Kira Vimal from SAAAC presented a four-part series that focused on caregivers which saw over 500 registrants and overwhelmingly positive feedback on the series. Autism Ontario also welcomed Sue Hutton and Lee Steel, CAMH affiliates to present An Autism-Informed Approach to Mindfulness geared to the autistic community which received more than 100 registrations and positive reviews from participants.

Regional Programming

Autism Ontario’s work across the province continued to evolve as our regional staff took on supporting the needs of families with adult support needs, multi-week programming, local fundraising, and volunteer recruitment for Service Navigation and regional events, and peer mentors for families in Autism Ontario’s support groups. The strong collaboration between Service Navigation and Regional teams greatly enhanced the support that we were able to deliver for all families across Ontario this year.

Transitioning to AccessOAP: The Future of Service Navigation

As Autism Ontario’s Service Navigation Program came to a close at the end of 2021, we look forward to our partnership with Accerta Services Inc., McMaster University (Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis [CHEPA] and the Offord Centre for Child Studies), and HealthCare 365 Inc. to deliver services to families through AccessOAP.

This collaboration funded by the Government of Ontario will support children, youth, and their families across the province navigate the needs-based Ontario Autism Program (OAP) from intake to funding and access programs and services that meet their specific needs.

adult services

Autism Ontario works to support autistic adults and their families reach their potential. Through positive advocacy work alongside autistic adults, professional community stakeholders, and policy makers, Autism Ontario aims to collaboratively envision and help create responsive services and opportunities for autistic adults in Ontario.


In 2021-22, Autism Ontario’s Adult Services responded to over 500 calls and 391 emails from the community seeking answers, program information, and referrals to service providers – a 20% increase in contacts over the previous year.

Scholarships & AWARDS


We supported autistic students, student siblings of autistic people, and students of of autistic parents as they transitioned to adulthood and post-secondary education and became involved in their communities. Autism Ontario awarded 14 $500 scholarships – ten Eleanor Ritchie Scholarships and four Jeanette Holden Scholarships. We received a total of 53 applications in 2021. Autism Ontario also provided 25 reimbursements of up to $500 for autistic adults who accessed the Building Brighter Futures Fund.

"I am honoured to have been chosen as a recipient of the Jeanette Holden Post-Secondary Scholarship. This scholarship money will help me further my medical studies…please extend sincere thanks to all the members of Autism Ontario on my behalf."


– Scholarship Recipient

Quotation Mark

Living Life to the Full


Supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Autism Ontario and its partners delivered the Living Life to the Full mental health promotion course to 321 individuals (autistic adults and caregivers of autistic adults) over a period of a year and a half.

Journey to Adulthood


Providing support to parents and caregivers remained a priority, and our Journey to Adulthood program provided the opportunity for 50 parents and caregivers of youth 12-21 years of age to discuss supporting their child during the transition from youth to adult over three courses in which participants could ask questions, learn about resources, and share information with their peers.

We extend our sincere thanks to our partners at PHAC, Autism Speaks Canada, APEX Academy Online, Variety Village, and Partners for Planning, as well as our generous donors who continue to support autistic youth and adults across their life course.

"This workshop is the most useful one I've attended in years. It was straightforward information touching on some topics that I haven't even considered yet, but teaching strategies of how to prepare for that time now. This workshop is a must! I ended the session feeling hopeful about my son's future and the possibilities available to him. Every parent needs that kind of reassurance."


– Parent attendee of Journey to Adulthood program

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Autism Career Connections

In November 2021, Autism Ontario, Apex Academy Online, and Odgers Berndtson launched Autism Career Connections, a free, online program offering on-demand modules for autistic youth and adults at the beginning of their employment journey, as well as employers interested in learning more about hiring autistic talent.


Momentum for this popular program continues to build as work begins on a fourth module related to personal finance with the financial support of a CIBC grant. Autism Ontario is working directly with members of our Adult Panel to co-create and edit the curriculum for this module to ensure that the content is relevant, clearly understood, and helpful for autistic youth and adults seeking this information.


Since November 2021, 303 individual participants (autistic adults and human resources/hiring professionals) from across Ontario have accepted the course invitation and accessed Autism Career Connections modules. Moving forward, the first three modules of Autism Career Connections will be translated into French, with future content created that will be relevant and accessible for the autistic Francophone community in Ontario.

Housing Through an Autism Lens

Autism Ontario’s Adult Services team participated in consultation and creation of the Housing Through an Autism Lens (HAL-Lab) project, which sought participation across Canada from autistic self-advocates, caregivers, and other stakeholders interested in creating a housing blueprint for autism.  

Together with partners Variety Village, Partners for Planning, and Apex Academy Online, Autism Ontario was the recipient of the Autism Speaks 2021 Community Grant to support the creation of an online curriculum for physical activity students in post-secondary institutions as well as private professionals to learn about autism and neurodiversity and create processes that are accessible and welcome autistic adults into physical activity programming.


regional programs

From Chapters to Regions: Expanding Our Province-Wide Impact


Seven years ago, a plan began to transform Autism Ontario’s Chapter model of 25 active chapters, overseen by volunteers, to a Regional model of seven Regions, each supported by two staff – one Program Coordinator and one Volunteer Coordinator. Under the pro bono analysis and guidance of McKinsey and Company, this process was evidence informed and motivated by a desire to provide equitable access and opportunities to individuals on the spectrum and their families across the province.

Resulting from the progress and success demonstrated through the Central West and East Region pilot migrations, July 2021 marked the decision to migrate Autism Ontario’s remaining Chapters into Regions by November 1, 2021. Between July and November 2021, Autism Ontario consulted with Chapter volunteers and reiterated our commitment to our steadfast volunteers, which included the following expectations of our new regional model:

  • Strong staff accountability across the province
  • Increased programming and events in underserved areas
  • Opportunities for volunteers to apply their expertise to create more meaningful experiences and reduce burnout
  • Increased connectivity, idea sharing, and cross-regional committees among regions
  • A more intentional approach to inclusivity

Late 2021 marked the end of the chapter-to-region migration and Autism Ontario’s seven regions now serve the autistic community across Ontario in the Central East, East, South, West, Central West, North, and Toronto Regions. Learn more about Autism Ontario’s Regions.

Autism Ontario remains grateful to those who served as devoted, dedicated volunteers, overseeing the Chapters in our previous model. It is thanks to the tireless efforts invested by these individuals that Autism Ontario’s strong foundation is in place to move forward with a plan that will expand our reach and impact across Ontario.

outreach

across the province

In 2021-22, Autism Ontario’s Outreach team continued to assess the unique needs of each community across the province and prioritize the needs of underserved families by providing culturally and language specific workshops and check-ins, workshops, sensory kits, and events that celebrated the diverse cultures represented by our communities, including those geared towards our 2SLGBTQ+ children, youth, and families.

We continued our collaboration with diverse communities across Ontario and sought to increase our learning and understanding of the intersectional experiences of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. We worked closely with Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Chiefs of Ontario to reflect on the accessibility needs of First Nations communities receiving local supports and services. Watch NAN's "What is Autism?" videos in English, Cree, and Ojibway.

Curved Arrow

Connecting with the Indigenous Community


We identified opportunities to deepen our relationships with the many Indigenous communities throughout the province, a goal we prioritized over the course of the year. We recognized a tremendous need for services and supports for families living in rural and remote communities, especially in communities in Northern Ontario where, at times, access to travel is further limited by season and its impact on the area's roads.

We continued to offer the Black Caregivers Circle, led by Halimo Hashi, a Black mental health professional. Through these check-ins, Black families from across the province shared their unique and resilient stories and formed a supportive community to exchange resources and words of reassurance. Autism Ontario is committed to offering ongoing opportunities to support Black autistic communities across Ontario.

Language-Based Supports


Our language-based and culturally specific supports and opportunities continued to evolve as we offered access to information to many non-English speaking families.


From "What is ASD" sessions in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Arabic, to mental health and "Facing the Stigma" workshops in Punjabi and Caregiver check-ins and chats with Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking communities, we are grateful to our partners at South Asian Autism Awareness Centre (SAAAC) who train our staff and support additional language translations so that we can continue to share these valuable supports and programs with more communities across the province.

Top languages spoken at home (excluding English and French):

1St

Arabic

Circled 2 C

Urdu

Circled 3

Spanish

Circled 4

Persian-Farsi

Circled 5

Hindi

Mandarin

5.7%

Tagalong

4.5%

Punjabi

3.8%

Tamil

3.4%

Cantonese

3%

Cree

3%

Hindi

6.4%

Bengali

3%

Persian-Farsi

9.5%

Russian

1.9%

Italian

0.4%

Spanish

11%

Arabic

12.9%

Urdu

13.3%

Other

12.5%

We look forward to continuing to foster the positive relationships that have been established between Autism Ontario and the many excellent organizations we have worked with. We will continue to expand on these partnerships and increase service in underserved communities. Our team is excited about this work and is eager to reach more families across all regions of the province in diverse ways!

French language services

Extending Our Reach and Engagement with the Francophone Community


French Language Services (FLS) are an integral part of Autism Ontario’s program and support offerings, ensuring that in every region of the province, autistic Francophones, their parents, caregivers, and families as well as professionals they interact with can benefit from a variety of resources in their preferred language of communication.

Programs and Services


In 2021-22, the Francophone community across the province had access to Autism Ontario’s 7 full-time FLS staff who offered support through a variety of French programming and services. Highlights include:

Family Support Services

  • 15 Interim One-Time Funding presentations
  • 8 Information sessions
  • 13 How to Submit Your OAP Expenses Information sessions


Events for Families

  • 51 recreational events


Programs

  • 9 recorded, on-demand webinars
  • 9 workshops

Parent Support Groups

  • 4 facilitated support groups
  • 3 CARES programs offered in partnership with the South Asian Autism Association Centre (SAAAC)

“Simplement pour vous remercier pour le programme CARES. Il y a eu des moments difficiles et de beaux moments. J'ai beaucoup apprécié la partie sur la communication assertive.”


– Parent

Quotation Mark

Resources

In 2021, Autism Ontario also published its third entirely French magazine, L’autisme, les arts et la créativité : une exposition. This 48-page magazine was the result of a province-wide collaboration that showcased the artistic expression, talent, and creativity of over thirty autistic Francophones. Over 1,000 copies were distributed across Ontario.


Additionally, two new French articles written by authors with lived experience in dual roles (a professional and parent, and a professional and autism self-advocate) were added to our online resource library.

Online resources available for the Francophone autism community in Ontario continued to increase as the year went on. In addition to French workshops and webinars, supporting materials for all English webinars were available in French to facilitate accessible participation for Francophone participants. We continue to expand our offerings of social media, website, and newsletter content available in French. We would like to acknowledge contributions from the Canada-Ontario Agreement which allow us to expand resources for the Francophone community.


In the fall of 2021, we began sending out an electronic French monthly newsletter highlighting upcoming opportunities for families and individuals, which led to increased interest and registration in our French events. During the year, an average of 1,900 Francophones received our new French provincial newsletter with an average 49% open rate.

Partnerships


In 2021-22, the FLS team forged new partnerships to expand our network and provide greater opportunities for future webinars, workshops, and information for the families we serve. New collaborations included la Société franco-ontarienne de l’autisme, le Centre francophone Hamilton, la Fédération des ainés et des retraités francophones de l‘Ontario, Canadian Mental Health Association (Sudbury Chapter), Greater Sudbury Police Service, the Ontario Caregiver Organization, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Outreach


Over the course of the year, Autism Ontario’s FLS team provided outreach to communities across the province, including all French language school boards as well as French daycares in the North Region and in other areas of Ontario to explain our service and program offerings and provide information about opportunities available to families in the area. Additionally, we offered presentations on changes to the Ontario Autism Program.

Advocacy

Promoting Autistic People's Rights through Advocacy


Autism Ontario aims to support and advocate alongside all autistic individuals, their caregivers, and their families across the province regardless of race, ethnicity, income, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.


This year we assembled a large advocacy working group composed of parents, caregivers, professionals, Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) Representatives, and Autism Ontario staff across the province to develop our responses to calls for consultation and submissions to various ministries within government. We wanted to learn about family experiences and better understand the needs of autistic students during their school years and in the critical transition from high school to adulthood.

Business Megaphone Shout Composition

recommendations to the provincial government


In early 2022, we participated in the provincial government’s pre-budget consultation process, identifying our concerns and priorities to the Minister of Finance. In an election year, we communicated a cohesive message to the province. Our recommendations included the following:

covid-19 vaccinations

We asked that priority was extended to autistic people and their caregivers with the rollout of the province’s COVID-19 vaccination program, including booster vaccinations.

ontario autism program (OAP)

We continued to urge the province to reduce the waitlists faced by families waiting for access to OAP services. Reduction of these waitlists remains one of Autism Ontario’s Top 5 Priorities. Our most recent province-wide parent survey indicated that 73.6 % of caregivers identified waitlists as a large or a very large barrier.

school years

Autism Ontario’s most recent parent/caregivers survey indicated that parents’ #1 concern was Educational Supports. We responded to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee Recommendations in fall 2021 and also responded to recommendations of the Transitions Sub-Committee for Accessible Transitions for Students with Disabilities in Kindergarten to Grade 12.

older teens and adults

We asked the provincial government to pay particular focus to older autistic teens and adults, as autism prevalence rates continue to grow along with children as they become teens and adults, and students are exiting high school unprepared and unsupported for adult life in increasingly higher numbers.


We made recommendations concerning continuing education supports, Special Services at home and respite funding waitlists, Ontario Disability Support Payments and Passport Funding, mental health, employment, and housing needs. We also urged the government to implement the recommendations in the Ontario Ombudsman’s Report, Nowhere to Turn.

healthcare and mental health

We urged the province to provide supports and incentives to build capacity for mental health professionals who understand autism and to also implement the Mental Health Committee as identified in the OAP Advisory Panel's Report.


We supported the recommendations outlined in the AODA Alliance's Finalized Recommendation to the Healthcare Standards Committee, especially as it related to the recommendations for autistic people. This included those that highlighted effective communications for people who are non-speaking who may have other communication support needs; dedicated, trained nursing staff in each ward to assist patients with complex needs; and the potential for sensory overload.

housing

We promoted a prevention-based supportive housing model based and encouraged the province to invest in and collaborate with disability and neurodevelopmental disability groups alongside all levels of government to improve the process of short-, medium-, and long-term planning for autistic adults’ affordable and supportive housing needs of autistic adults. We urged the government’s support of the Housing Through an Autism Lens(HAL-Lab) project work in realizing the creation of affordable, flexible, desirable, supportive housing based on individualized and changing living requirements throughout adult life to ultimately create a far less daunting process for individuals and families.

national autism strategy

Finally, we encouraged the collaboration and knowledge sharing mechanisms between provinces and territories within a framework of a National Autism Strategy to inform autism-related policy decisions.

Read more about our work related to the National Autism Strategy on page 22.

health services in school settings


In other advocacy work, Autism Ontario responded to the Ontario Government’s Policy/Program Memorandum No. 81, Provision of Health Support Services in School Settings, and outlined our suggestions for improvements to School-Based Rehabilitation and Community-Based Clinical Services.


These included: student-specific service plans, information-sharing channels and processes, service evaluation and accountability, mental health services for autistic children and youth, increased BCBA and RBT capacity, and an examination/review of the IEP, IPRC, appeal boards and special education teaching procedures under the Education Act.

ontario autism caregiver survey


We also partnered with the Laurier Autism Research Consortium on its Families in Flux: Findings from the 2021 Ontario Autism Caregiver Survey report, which highlighted what families and caregivers have been telling Autism Ontario for many years⁠—namely parents’ struggle with the long time it takes to advocate and navigate systems for their children, extensive waitlists for services, and the increased need for collaborative supports by regulated professionals working with educators in school settings to support autistic children to learn and thrive. Other highlights included: more/better transition supports from high school to and throughout adulthood, eligibility barriers for Passport funding, and addressing the lengthy waitlist for these vital adult supports.

Autism Ontario is committed to supporting autistic families, children, youth, and adults across the province. We will continue to advocate and promote the autistic community’s needs and experiences as we closely monitor policies, decisions, and events that impact their rights and lives.

media coverage

Autism Ontario benefited from a positive media environment in 2021-22. Various Autism Ontario staff were interviewed by major media outlets such as CTV, CBC, and CityTV, and appeared on radio and in print on several advocacy-related issues.

Learning During Lockdown


As it related to the impact of continued lockdowns on autistic children and their families, Autism Ontario’s Tobi McEvenue was interviewed by CBC Radio in Ottawa in October regarding growing parent frustration with children at home during the lockdown and losing their one-to-one supports. Autism Ontario’s Crystal Hunter spoke with CityTV News Toronto in January about the negative impacts of online learning on the physical and mental well-being of autistic children.

National Autism Strategy


In August 2021, Autism Ontario collaborated with fellow autism organizations in the Provincial-Territorial Autism Network (P-TAN) on a letter to federal party leaders seeking clarity on their commitment to improving the quality of life of Autistic Canadians and their families through the implementation of a National Autism Strategy. The Liberal Party, Conservative Party, and National Democratic Party each responded to P-TAN’s call to their stance on the Strategy, and the Canadian journal iPolitics quoted Executive Director Marg Spoelstra extensively in an article citing the need for a National Autism Strategy approaching the fall federal election.

Community Safety


A more local incident involving Justin Leckie, an autistic adult with a guide dog who was assaulted in a Kitchener-Waterloo restaurant by its owners, was broadcast multiple times in November, increasing its reach. CTV approached Autism Ontario for comment, and the story received mostly local as well as some provincial and national attention. Autism Ontario was among the first in the autistic and larger disability communities to comment, cementing our place as a thought leader among the media and the public.

Fundraising

Thank You to Our Donors


Autism Ontario is deeply grateful for the philanthropic support we receive from our community each year. It is our honour to acknowledge the vital importance of our donors – thousands of dedicated individuals, corporations, foundations, and community groups who stood with us in 2021. While we made substantial changes to our organization in moving to a regional structure last year, there’s one thing that never waivers thanks to you – our resilience as an organization and our profound commitment to the autistic community across Ontario.

We couldn’t do it without you – the loyal community of donors who make Autism Ontario their charity of choice every year.


You are the force that moves Autism Ontario forward and helps to create a kinder, more inclusive Ontario for all autistic people.

Your donations make it possible for our program staff to change the lives of autistic people and their families every single day, 365 days a year.

Thank you for your belief in the work that we do.


On behalf of the Autism Ontario Board of Directors, staff, and most importantly the program participants who are impacted by your generosity, we extend our most sincere thanks and appreciation.


If you have questions about your donation, donor account, or the impact of your gift, please contact us at fundraising@autismontario.com.


See a list of our Corporate, Foundation, and Community Donors.

Kelly & Quinn's Story


Program and Volunteer Coordinator for Autism Ontario's Central East Region, Stephanie Maguire, recently spoke to Kelly Mahar about her family’s journey with autism after her son, Quinn, was diagnosed one year ago. We wanted to learn more about how our donors help autistic people and their families navigate the world and thrive. Our donors are an integral part of the engine that powers Autism Ontario and Kelly wants you to know how grateful she is for your help!

A dedicated runner and Key Account Manager for Saucony, Kelly, and her husband, Geoff, live in Newmarket with their two wonderful, energetic children. They are an active, nature-loving family. Geoff is a golfer, and the entire crew loves to be outside spending as much time as possible in the park, cottaging, or camping in the summer. After their son, Quinn, was diagnosed with autism one year ago, the family was motivated to learn everything they could. Kelly reached out to an Autism Ontario Service Navigator and has since established a cherished connection with an Ausome Moms group. Thanks to you, Kelly’s family is growing stronger, more resilient, and having fun while learning how to handle the tougher times.

Read what Kelly had to say:


“When Quinn turned one, we had a few concerns with how he was developing. He wasn't hitting any of his regular milestones, he had zero words, he rarely sought out affection if he was hurting or sad, and he had little to no eye contact. We went to our family doctor, who referred us to a developmental pediatrician to address the concerns we were having.


It took about eight months before we managed to get an appointment. Because of COVID-19, we met virtually with the doctor and a speech-language pathologist, and after two meetings and an assessment, we received Quinn's diagnosis. Although we were prepared to hear it, this was not easy news to take in. We struggled, we were sad, we were angry; so many emotions came over us.

There were so many questions and so many things we had to figure out – where to start and who to ask. Thankfully, I was able to connect with the team at Autism Ontario who got me off on the right foot in this lifelong journey with Quinn. They helped me right from the beginning with what I needed to do, who I needed to contact, what forms I needed to fill out, and where I could find all different types of information. It's been almost a year since Quinn was diagnosed and, although I am no expert, I have learned so much about autism and have been able to connect with other parents in the same situation."

"The endless number of resources, support groups, virtual seminars, and coffee chats, to name a few, have truly benefitted me so much over the past year. I am truly grateful to all the donors who make this kind of support possible. Thank you.”


- Kelly Mahar, Parent

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autism ontario

by the numbers

Our Community

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Autism Ontario had 62 full-time staff supporting the autism community.

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We received donations from 2,245 individuals, 203 organizations, and

53 foundations.

Supporting Families

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We served 10,361 new families (an increase of 17%).

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We served 338 Francophone families (an increase of 26%).

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We received 5,230 calls/webform messages