Sault Ste. Marie adopts autism strategy

The City of Sault Ste. Marie is launching a strategy it hopes will assist those caring for people with autism to find and access services. It's part of what the city calls its commitment to accessibility.

The Soo's autism strategy includes a services inventory, an autism roadmap, and design guidelines. City councillor Lisa Vezeau-Allen, who serves as chair of the autism strategy subcommittee, said the plan aims to address confusion at how to access services.

"For a lot of people, they just don't know what to do, where to go, and what the process looks like," Vezeau-Allen said. "Everything from a young child that you think might be autistic to an adult."

She said that is why the city's autism roadmap is split into two parts –one for those ages 16 and under and another for those who are older. Vezeau-Allen said her child is on the autism spectrum, giving her insight into the barriers people face.

"We all collectively knew that there needed to be that sort of one-stop-shop where you could gather information," she said. "It was really important I think, from the municipality perspective, to be behind it and to support it, because as a municipality, we don't provide services, but we can certainly provide a portal for people to get information and to know where to go."

The city worked on its strategy with several community partners, including Algoma Public Health, Community Living Algoma, and Thrive Children's Centre. Sault Ste. Marie's planning director, Don McConnell, said the strategy will evolve over time.

"This is actually the first autism strategy that I'm aware of that a municipality in Ontario has," McConnell said. "We haven't been able to find anything similar or design guidelines that are similar. So what we're hoping is that it will be adopted by other municipalities and as part of the feedback, we'll get other good ideas and improve it as time goes on."

McConnell said the design guidelines in the autism strategy will ensure things such as sensory spaces will be considered in the building of new city facilities.