WAVE Ottawa

See what adults with autism can do

Odds are you know somebody with autism. The latest Canadian research suggests one in 94 people has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and though studies tend to focus on children, there are many Ottawa adults on this spectrum.

That’s why an exciting new program called WAVE Ottawa (Work and Volunteer Experience) is making waves in the city. Founded by Dovercourt Recreation Association and funded by Unity for Autism, WAVE aims to raise awareness and realize the potential of adults with autism in the workplace. There is a load of potential. As the WAVE Ottawa website asks, “Did you know, for example, that people with autism are often very systematic and focused in a task they enjoy doing? They may have a passion for detail and can have outstanding memory.”

FYI: Often used interchangeably, autism and ASD refer to a spectrum of neurological conditions characterized by differences in social interaction, communication, and behaviours and interests. Strengths, challenges and the number, nature and severity of symptoms vary greatly from one person to another.

Thanks to WAVE, people with autism can put their skills to work. Job and volunteer placements are found for them and job coaches support them to succeed. Holly Martin, WAVE’s placement and job coach coordinator, helps make all this possible. Participants, called apprentices, are aged 21 and up, and so far over 20 local residents have become apprentices.

These days they’re busy at all sorts of endeavours. The first work partner was Legend Records at 1315 Wellington Street. Since then there have been placements at a printing operation, a long-term care facility, a day care centre, Maggie’s Flower Shop and Knox United Church, as well as leaf raking and snow removal contracts. The City of Ottawa’s recreational skating school, a pet store, Ottawa Technical Secondary School’s Green Shoots composting program and a local business called McBead Creations have also welcomed apprentices. In addition to that, Dovercourt has hired WAVE apprentices to work in child care, marketing and maintenance positions.

“Dovercourt has been so incredibly supportive in not only the creation of the program but the program growth and acceptance,” says WAVE co-founder Anne Villeneuve. A few years ago she and Eileen, a parent of one of her students, started looking around at city offerings for adults with autism. The prospects weren’t at all promising. They dreamed of a program that would provide opportunities for people to work and contribute to the community. Eventually, they found their way to Kathleen Finn and Mike Tait at Dovercourt Community Centre. Jackpot! Both Kathleen and Mike believed in their idea and were keen to help in any way possible. From there, they applied to Unity for Autism for funding. The grant application was approved in late 2012 and by April of 2013 WAVE was a reality, with Dovercourt Recreation Centre serving as a training site for its apprentices. Less than six months later, in September of 2013, Dovercourt launched the WAVE Prep Program. Geared to adults with Asperger Syndrome interested in preparing for the workforce, the focus of this initiative was to hone work-related skills. Two days a week, participants worked on resumes, cover letters and mock interviews and there was also an opportunity to earn certifications, including first aid, CPR, WHMIS, CPI and High Five.

Now Dovercourt is offering the WAVE Prep Program five days a week for anyone on the spectrum. The program provides recreational activities, social and life skill development opportunities, and a work component each day. When apprentices aren’t working or volunteering, some attend SCEL (Support Community Enhanced Learning) Hintonburg, a new City of Ottawa pilot program that runs out of the Hintonburg Community Centre.

One of the unique aspects of the WAVE Prep Program is that, in their placements, apprentices receive job coaching suited to their individual circumstances. Some folks only need a job coach for a few weeks while others may require ongoing support. Even better, a number of people from the original prep program have become mentors and job coaches for new members of the group. “This is a huge confidence builder for all involved!”

And Anne is quick to point out the apprentices’ talents. One of them, Yussuf, can create whatever greeting card a person might like. He’s the goto guy for birthday cards and more. Another is a design whiz. She has crafted the T-shirt design for an Ottawa social group called Young Challengers. As for raising awareness, WAVE has worked with Rogers TV 22 and Ottawa speech and language pathologist Sheila Bell to create a video. Called Autism Inclusion 101, it describes the potential of individuals with autism and explains how to be inclusive in recreational settings, classrooms, the workforce and the community.

At this point, demand for the WAVE program is greater than its founders ever dreamed. Since space at Dovercourt is limited, Anne says, “We would sure like to find a partner out there… to be a part of this exciting program so that we can keep expanding.” To support Wave Ottawa or get involved, see waveottawa.ca and email wave@dovercourt.org. To learn more about Dovercourt, see dovercourt.org, for details about Unity for Autism, see unityforautism.ca.

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