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Government boosts funding for autism help centre

An Algonquin-based pilot project to help autistic students can continue for another year, after receiving a last-minute funding boost.

The Transition Support Centre in A144 had an uncertain future, with funding due to run out in April, four years after it launched. The centre received word from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development in mid-February that a fifth year of funding will be added.

“It feels great,” said Tara Connolly, coordinator of the centre. “We’ve seen how valuable it is to the students.”

The amount of funding was not disclosed to the Times.

The centre is one of two province-wide pilot projects that are seeking to develop a model to support autism spectrum students as they transition into college life. The other project is based out of York U in Toronto.

The province asked Algonquin to establish the TSC because of the college’s large population of autism spectrum students.

The aim is to help students settle in and navigate the often confusing college environment. They also coach teachers on how to provide accommodation.

“(The idea is) having a place to reach out and anchor,” said Connolly.

It isn’t a single service but encompasses a variety of support for students, who are free to not use it if they don’t want to. Connolly said some students need a lot of help and others need less.

“What’s good about the (TSC) is it can be moulded to be what the students need,” said Heather Peace, a learning strategist who started working at the TSC in February 2015. She coaches students on learning strategies, something that’s allowed her to see first-hand how the service has helped.

“I think it’s a really positive step (to get another year of funding),” Peace said.

Although it’s considered a demo project, Connolly said it’s a success. She receives calls all the time from students who are considering enrolling with Algonquin and want to check if the TSC would be available for them.

With another year of gas in the tank, Connolly said it will be more of the same – fine tuning their model and waiting on the government’s next move.

While it isn’t clear what the government’s plans are, Connolly said she and autism advocacy groups are working on the dialogue.

“I personally am pushing to have it rolled out across the province,” she said. “But that’s a delicate process.”

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