Research on autism in Indigenous communities to be conducted

Cowessess Chief Cadmus Dalorme, said the return to school plan was developed based on information from a parent/caregiver survey carried out in July. Courtesy of Reconciliation Education

Autism within the Indigenous community is both under detected and underrepresented, but a new program is going to make way on changing that fact.

The Autism Resource Centre (ARC) found this through preliminary research and is partnering with Cowessess First Nation to develop a program exploring autism in Indigenous communities.

Autism is a growing disorder in First Nation communities across the province. Studies prove that early intervention is key, however, waitlists for diagnosis are long,” said Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation.

“There is a need for equitable access to supports and services for Indigenous children with autism but the problem is a lack of resources, research, and funding.”

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The three-year project called the Building Block Program: Transition Services for Indigenous Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder, will be focused on researching autism within First Nations communities and improving participation of Indigenous youth with autism transitioning from high school to paid employment.

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“Through the development of autism resources, increased awareness of autism within the Indigenous community and specialized services such as supported employment, cultural identity, mental health and transition planning, together with Cowessess First Nation, we can ensure our Indigenous young people with autism have the skills to become employed in a career of their choice, and that employers understand the value of employees with unique abilities can bring to their workplace,” said ARC’s executive director, Keely Wight.

Reasons for under-detection and underrepresentation in these communities include but aren’t limited to: diagnostic substitutions like Fetal Alcohol Syndrom Disorder diagnosis, geographical location, and a “history of mistrust that exists towards western medical forms of interventions,” according to the First Nation.

“This partnership will assist the direction we want to go in terms of addressing what is needed to help families who suffer without the proper supports in place,” said Delorme.

The project will be funded by a multi-year contract from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) Autism Spectrum Disorder Fund.

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The collaboration with Cowessess First Nation is seen as imperative to its success.

“We are very honoured to be working with Cowessess First Nation on this project,” said Wight, adding ARC is grateful for the “willingness of Chief Cadmus Delorme and his team to teach ARC the traditional and cultural perspectives needed to make this programming successful for years to come.”

Cowessess First Nation, ARC, along with the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Network, Street Culture Project, and the University of Regina and Simon Fraser University will be involved in the project.

The project is the first of its kind in North America.

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