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HEALTH CONNECTION

New programs address autism

By David Chilton
Special to The Sun


Last year the provincial government announced new and expanded support for families with autistic children, earmarking $80 million in funds.

Some of that money will fund college programs that offer training to holders of a diploma in a human service or university graduates in any discipline.
ANDREW MCNAMARA
George Brown College


Andrew McNamara, co-ordinator of the Autism and Behavioural Science Technology program at George Brown College in Toronto, one of the schools receiving funding for the initiative, says the one-year certificate course came about after parents applied pressure to Queen's Park.

McNamara, who has a Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Toronto, says George Brown will offer the new program in class only. Other colleges, including Seneca in Toronto and Mohawk in Hamilton, will also have the program, with Seneca offering in class, online and on-site options and Mohawk teaching most of its material in class.

However, irrespective of how students choose to study they will all have to complete two placements. McNamara says George Brown requires one placement of 140 hours and a second of 210 hours.

'We're starting off with 20 (students) and the plan is to increase (that number) over the next three to four years simply because the placement component of the program is critical. We simply do not want to overwhelm the agencies that are providing services to children with autism with placements all at once," McNamara says.

Paul Armstrong, chair of Health Sciences and Human Services at Mohawk, says the college has already signed up 30 students for the 30 places it had available initially and is on the verge on starting a wait list. He expects Mohawk to begin the fall semester with 35 students.

The majority of his enrollees are female, says Armstrong, and a reflection of the usual makeup of the social services professions. He says he received lots of applications from Early Childhood Education graduates, and a number from child and youth workers.

Armstrong is reluctant to put an age range to his students, but points out the educational background required by the program suggests most will be in their twenties, although he's had a number of inquiries from mature students. McNamara says the student age runs from the twenties to the early forties at George Brown.
QUICK FACTS
  • The new autism and behavioural science programs at colleges in Ontario begin this fall.
  • Applicants need a diploma in a human service or a university degree.
  • Students will need to complete two work placements of 350 hours before graduation.
  • Most of the applicants to the new programs are women.
  • Job prospects are excellent, but the starting pay for an instructor therapist is average and comparable to salaries paid in other human service positions. Applicants need a diploma in a human service or a university degree.


  • The curriculum for the program is common across all colleges. McNamara says in the first semester students will take courses such as Introduction to Behavioural Analysis, Introduction to Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorders and Treating Challenging Behaviours. Second semester topics will include Specialized Institutional Methods and Transition Planning and Implementation. Tuition for the program at George Brown and Mohawk is about $2,800.

    Some medical experts estimate that autism spectrum disorder affects as many as one in 250 Canadian children, and typically appears before a child is three. Depending on its severity, autistic children can exhibit communication disorder, learning difficulties, poor social interaction and repetitive behaviours.

    As might be expected, the job outlook for graduates of the program look enviable. "The prospects for employment are huge," McNamara says. "(The government) realized because of staff turnover in these agencies and the growing recognition of the need for services for these children that they needed to have training programs to get folks out there in the field."

    There are lots of jobs but, typically, there's not a lot of money attached to them. McNamara says instructor therapists, which is what graduates become, can earn $12 to $18 an hour working in family-based programs or in the mid- to upper-$30,000 range at a publicly funded agency.



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