Autism and Employment in Canada – Much to celebrate, more to be done.

April as World Autism Month offers an opportunity to raise awareness about this complex condition and the growing impact it is having on families and communities around the world. The Sinneave Family Foundation is active in the area of autism and employment and I want to celebrate the impact we are seeing in Calgary and across the country.

I would particularly like to celebrate the success of a young adult with autism who after many years of imagining and striving towards a particular career, has recently started her “dream job”!  This is the outcome we dare to hope for in our own lives and, to the extent possible, the lives of our children. So what made this seemingly out of reach outcome a reality for Jessica?

For most Canadians, a job is a prerequisite to independence.  A job also supports well-being and self-esteem through a sense of contribution, accomplishment and the building of work related relationships. The national unemployment rate for all Canadians is 6.6%, however in the developmental disability population, unemployment rates are between 70-80%.

Programs designed to prepare individuals with disabilities for meaningful work have significant benefits not only for the individual and their family, but also for our communities. Return on Investment (ROI) calculations demonstrate a return of between $5 and $10 within 10 years for every $1 spent on vocational rehabilitation services.

The Government of Canada is providing significant leadership by making important investments in national programs aimed at improving the employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities. In the area of autism, Worktopia is a national employment readiness and transition to work program that is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities Program. It is concurrently being delivered from 12 sites across Canada, and together, the Worktopia delivery sites are making the collective case that investing in targeted programming and employment support improves employment rates and creates positive impacts on individuals, families and communities. Employers are also experiencing first-hand the potential of a previously underemployed workforce to contribute based on their skills and abilities.

In Jessica’s case, the seemingly out-of-reach outcome of landing her ‘dream job’ was directly impacted by the proactive efforts of her parents, and cumulatively and collaboratively through her participation in skill building programs. Worktopia, an important program in Jessica’s employment journey, built her confidence, helped her with job search and social skills, broadened her perspective on career possibilities, and gave her a “chance to shine” in multiple environments. Check out the Impact Videos on the Worktopia website.

The Sinneave Family Foundation would like to acknowledge the substantial investment by the Government of Canada and many others who contribute to programs and services that help individuals with disabilities prepare for, find and sustain meaningful work.  Collectively we are making a difference, but there is more work ahead.  In order to advance and then sustain the growth that has been achieved, we need continued support and investment in this area.

World Autism Awareness Day is Sunday, April 2nd. Here in Calgary, YYC World Autism Awareness Day celebrations will be held at Olympic Plaza from 11am – 2 pm. Around the world, thousands of iconic landmarks and buildings join the hundreds of thousands of homes and community monuments that “Light it Up Blue” in recognition of UN sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day and April as World Autism Month. I encourage you to join the celebrations.

Tanya McLeod
Sinneave Family Foundation

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