City of Laval partners with Giant Steps
to become first autism-friendly city in Quebec
By Valentina Basilicata
Laval is committed to better serving its autistic citizens, declared Mayor Marc Demers at a press conference held December 3, 2015. Demers affirmed the city is collaborating with Giants Steps School and its Resource & Training Centre to teach first responders, public transit workers and employers to better understand and interact with autistic individuals.
The announcement coincided with the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was themed “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities” this year.
"The goal of this project is to provide autistic people and their family with better access to life in their community, by promoting awareness, acceptance and appreciation of autism," explained Seiun Thomas Henderson, Director of Giant Steps School.
“As a Laval resident and the father of an autistic child, I am proud that my city recognizes the challenges of people affected by this condition, particularly since the city is serving as a pioneer to make Laval the first municipality in Canada that is accessible to everyone and all-inclusive," said Nicholas Katalifos. Katalifos sits as chairman on the Board of Directors at Giant Steps. The private, bilingual school is dedicated to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), while its resource centre supports the ASD community through a wide range of services.
Training for Laval’s firefighters and police is already underway. Public transit workers will have their turn in 2016. Moreover, the city will create a voluntary registry of households with autistic individuals; it will be integrated into the 911 service’s database. It is estimated there are 4,000 people living with autsim in Laval.
“It’s crucial that [first responders] recognize certain behaviour as autistic instead of threatening or disrespectful,” explained Remrov Vormer, an autistic pencil artist working closely with Giant Steps. “Another thing that many of us find scary and very difficult is public transportation. It would be good if personnel could recognize this so that they could help out whenever is needed.”
The city also has several long-term projects in the works related to housing, employment, sports, arts and even entertainment. And Cineplex’s Colossus Laval has plans to introduce sensory-friendly movie screenings. These screenings are presented with the lights up and the sound down.
City officials and the school’s representatives are confident their joint efforts will improve community life for people with autism, while simultaneously raising awareness and acceptance of individuals on the spectrum.
Katalifos said Giant Steps is eager to work with all partners who wish to develop similar initiatives. “This is a long-term project. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he admitted. “We need to work in collaboration with many different organizations, be it municipal or out in the community.”
Demers is proud to be taking the lead: “I invite other municipalities to benefit from our experience and the steps we’ve taken to better serve the population.”
Valentina Basilicata is a freelance journalist, communications specialist and emcee. She is also the proud mom of two boisterous, loveable boys.
About Giant Steps School
Giant Steps School / École À Pas de Géant is the only private education institution in Québec whose training mission is exclusively aimed at 4-21-year-old girls and boys with autism spectrum disorders. Set up to meet the needs of both English- and French-speaking children, the school is recognized by many parties concerned in the educational and health networks.
The Resource and Training Centre of Giant Steps School offers many quality services to professionals, educators and families faced with issues related to autism in Québec and elsewhere.
With a population of over 420,000, Laval is the third largest city in Québec. It is also one of the cities with the highest demographic growth. Laval is both a city and an administrative region. Following its Repensons Laval / Rethinking Laval operation, Ville de Laval developed a strategic vision (Urban in Nature – Laval 2035) in 2015.