We are incredibly proud of the work we have accomplished together to advocate for a National Autism Strategy. In the last four years since the Government of Canada announced its commitment to creating a National Autism Strategy, Autism Alliance of Canada has engaged in meaningful work in the autism and disability sectors, at the national, provincial/territorial and local levels. Our process supports robust collaboration, partnerships and member engagement to promote successful social and economic inclusion for Autistic people in Canada and their loved ones.
We remain committed to pursuing a better way forward. From across the country, we convene, catalyze, and collaborate to achieve our collective vision: Autistic people and their families exercising their full rights and realizing their full potential.
We invite you to learn more about our journey in the FAQ below, as we look forward to the next stage of growth, development and impact of our organization.
Why did we change our name?
As the development of a National Autism Strategy approached, the time was right for the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance (CASDA) to reflect on the evolution of our organization, and how we can best address the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead. To set ourselves and our members up for success and build on our momentum, we have mapped out an exciting new direction in our updated Strategic Plan.
Our new name–Autism Alliance of Canada / Alliance canadienne de l’autisme–reflects a holistic and strengths-based approach to autism.
This is in keeping with the United Nations and the World Health Organization’s shift from a deficit model that sees autism as a disorder, to a broader model of disability that looks at physical and mental health as well as social factors and includes the use of strength-based language.
At our 2022 Annual General Meeting, our organization and community members voted unanimously to ratify our new name. We removed the words “spectrum disorder” from our name to avoid isolating and offending members of our community who are at the centre of our identity and purpose.
Has our role changed along with our name?
We have updated our strategic direction, outlining how we will play a role in moving the National Autism Strategy forward. You can view the presentation of our 2023-2028 Strategic Plan here. Included in this direction are our refreshed vision, mission, priorities, process, and principles.
We would like to thank our members for participating in the consultation process and laying the groundwork for the future of our organization. Consulting with our members was an essential part of this process and we appreciate the time you took to review this work and share your thoughts for the next chapter in our journey together. If you would like to apply for a membership with Autism Alliance of Canada, click here.
We are incredibly proud of what has been accomplished through our collective advocacy for a National Autism Strategy. As that Strategy comes together and evolves, we know we will continue to have a significant role to play in addressing other urgent priorities within the disability sector in the years to come.
What is Autism Alliance of Canada doing to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion is prioritized within its initiatives?
With work on a National Autism Strategy currently underway, Autism Alliance of Canada remains focused on bringing attention to the barriers experienced by Autistic people living in Canada and their families. We apply an intersectional lens to our work, engaging with Canadians in the community, as well as the political and service sectors, in research, professional, and educational settings, and in the health and employment sectors. We do this at federal, provincial, territorial and regional levels, where we identify and work to remove the barriers, biases and discrimination that stand in the way of full social inclusion for Autistic people.
This engagement includes Canadians with lived experience, first voice Canadians, family members and support providers, and community individuals with a strong commitment to achieving our goals. A number of our projects touch on the diversity within the Autistic community. As equity and inclusion remain a complex subject, we are committed to learning as we grow.
Finally, we believe it is necessary to increase our commitment to inclusion and outreach to engage people and communities that have been left out of many activities within the autism sector. During the last five Leadership Summits, from 2018-2022, we have listened to, and taken to heart the perspectives of Indigenous leaders as they describe the unique challenges within their communities for Autistic children and adults and their families. We are forming working relationships with the leaders and members of a number of First Nations across the country. Our involvement in this activity will continue to grow, as we look for ways to make the work of Autism Alliance of Canada more accessible and relevant to First Nations and Indigenous peoples.
How is Autism Alliance of Canada currently engaging the Autistic community?
The vision of our organization is Autistic people and their families, exercising their full rights and realizing their full potential. We are committed to helping the community address complex issues that Autistic persons and their families face across their lifespan. We put these core beliefs into action by:
- Working with autism leaders and government departments to advance a National Autism Strategy that ensures Autistic people in Canada experience full and meaningful inclusion in all aspects of life and engages with the broader disabilities sector through the Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP).
- Creating vehicles for supporting and expanding the national commitment to meaningful social inclusion of Autistic people in Canada. These include, but are not limited to:
- Creating a National Lived Experience Advisory Group to provide oversight, accountability and inclusion by people with lived experience.
- Lived experience participation in all aspects of our annual Canadian Autism Leadership Summit (CALS). CALS brings together autism leaders, including Autistic people in Canada, policy makers, and committed Canadians from all provinces and territories to review emerging practices, leading research findings and community and political issues which may be impacting the advancement of a National Autism Strategy and further strengthening social inclusion.
- The ongoing work on developing policy recommendations through the efforts of policy working groups made up of Autistic people, researchers and other autism leaders from across the country.
- Continuing to support the activity and ownership of the Canadian Journal of Autism Equity by Autistic writers, artists and editors is an outstanding example of how we can promote authentic social inclusion in our communities.
What does it mean to become a member of Autism Alliance of Canada?
All persons and organizations from across Canada that are committed to the National Autism Strategy are welcome to become a member of the Alliance. Our members work together to achieve the common goal of advancing a National Autism Strategy. To learn more about our mission, vision, process and principles, we invite you to read our 2023-2028 Strategic Plan. It is important to note that we do not represent, promote or censure the views of any of our members. To apply for a membership with Autism Alliance of Canada, click here.
Do you have equal opportunities for Autistic leadership roles at Autism Alliance of Canada?
Yes. Autism Alliance of Canada is an equal opportunity employer committed to maximizing the diversity of our organization. We strive towards building an Autistic-inclusive space. We actively encourage applications Autistic people and from all equity-seeking groups.
Is there Autistic representation among paid team members at Autism Alliance of Canada?
Yes. Autism Alliance of Canada has Autistic people in paid leadership positions–filling essential roles of researchers, project coordinators and editorial board members. Since our first paid staff member in a leadership position at Autism Alliance of Canada was hired in 2019, we have consistently worked towards hiring more Autistic people in leadership roles and strive towards building an Autistic-inclusive space. Further, our membership is open to both individuals and organizations, where vast and diverse experience, expertise and voices come together for the shared and common purpose to advocate and amplify the need for a National Autism Strategy. Over 20% of our individual members identify as Autistic or neurodivergent. We broaden our reach and impact through more than 100 Organization members who serve over 630,000 Autistic people across Canada.
What is the role of the Board members of Autism Alliance of Canada?
Autism Alliance of Canada is directly accountable to its members through its volunteer Board of Directors. Our Board of Directors is dedicated to representing and working on behalf of members of Autism Alliance of Canada to ensure issues of mutual importance are brought to the attention of our Federal Government. Directors are responsible for providing the strategic leadership and operational support necessary to establish and meet the mission, vision, and principles of our organization.
As of September 2023, the board of directors of Autism Alliance of Canada is made up of 14 members. Of our current board, 50% identify as having lived experience. Board members are recruited based on a skills matrix that brings a balance of lived experience, volunteer commitment to our goals and workplace experience to support the governance of Autism Alliance of Canada.
The development of a National Lived Experience Advisory Group, composed of Autistic persons, family members and support persons with lived experience, will introduce a new level of input, oversight and accountability to Autistic people in Canada, their families and communities.
Does the Canadian Autism Leadership Summit offer opportunities for participation and presentations by Autistic people and persons with lived experience?
Yes. The Canadian Autism Leadership Summit (CALS) is 100% percent volunteer based. A number of Autistic people hold leadership roles outside of the Lived Experience Committee in a volunteer capacity for CALS. In addition, all Autistic persons, as well as parents or support persons, that are not affiliated with an organization or institution, are compensated for presenting at the Canadian Autism Leadership Summit.
Is Autism Alliance of Canada a research organization?
No. Autism Alliance of Canada is not a research organization, but rather an alliance of members who work together to achieve the common goal of advancing a National Autism Strategy. We advocate for a better way forward where provinces and territories can have access to evidence-informed best practices, working with Autistic people in Canada, their families, health care professionals and government representatives across the country, to make decisions improving their quality of life.
What are the next steps in the development of a National Autism Strategy?
- Bill S-203, An Act respecting a federal framework on autism, has received Royal Assent from the Governor General and become Canadian law. Translating the bill into action provides for the development of a National Autism Strategy designed to support Autistic people in Canada and those who love and support them.
- The responsibility of overseeing the development, execution, and evaluation of a National Autism Strategy will be held by the federal government and is being overseen by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Our organization continues to strongly advocate that the National Autism Strategy includes significant and diverse representation of Autistic people and their support persons in Canada in order to be truly reflective of the needs across the country. We will continue to grow our role as a convener, supporting the actioning of a National Autism Strategy by bringing people together and promoting collaboration through knowledge exchange and capacity building.
- The accountability measures and timelines placed in the carefully crafted language of Bill S-203 have never been put in place before. These measures will ensure that the federal framework on autism will progress despite changes in the political climate over time. It will be up to the government to collaborate with stakeholders to discuss and design the framework.
- One of the first steps taken towards the National Autism Strategy has involved exploring the creation of a National Autism Network (NAN) to support the Strategy. The purpose of this network is to bring together the skills and resources of Autistic people, people with lived experience, autism-focused organizations, and other groups that support Autistic people in Canada. Autism Alliance of Canada is one of three organizations advising a consultant who will provide a report in October 2023 to the Public Health Agency of Canada. This report will serve as the basis for an open competition for autism organizations to apply together to set up and guide the National Autism Network.