Giant Steps is a therapy centre that builds the skills and abilities of children with autism through specialized, evidence-based therapies and life skills programming

Christopher and Nikki speak

Concerned about the York Region District School Board’s intent to close Giant Steps in June 2021, 2 of our former students recently addressed YRDSB trustees and staff with heartfelt messages about the impact the Giant Steps program has had on them. 

We’re so proud of them and all they have accomplished!

“Through you Madam Chair, I want to speak tonight to the trustees about my experience as a Giant Steps student. The trustees need to hear from students and parents.

My name is Christopher.  I started school at Giant Steps when I was 4 back in 2004.  When I started I had no speech only 3 sounds, I couldn’t sit for more than 5 minutes, I didn’t know how to hold a pencil properly, I couldn’t ride a bike, was afraid of water and cutting my hair was a painful experience.  Giant Steps therapies helped me with my speech, so as you can see today, I can speak clearly and confidently.  I actually did the morning announcements from grade 7 until I graduated from high school.   Occupational therapy helped me learn how to hold a pencil and sit through an entire class, I love swimming and I ride a bike independently.  The Giant Steps Educational Assistants worked really hard with the school and teachers to help me integrate back to into my home school, at my pace.  With Giant Steps setting a good foundation, it made it possible for me to be where I am today.  I graduated with a full high school diploma and I am now attending a college program in business administration.  I independently use local public transit and I had a part-time job until COVID hit and changed a lot of things.

On integrating back full time into a Board classroom after Giant Steps, the biggest thing that affected me was the inconsistency year over year.  My school year would be as successful as the instructors I had and their willingness or ability to properly support me.  I struggled some years because of this inconsistency.  This is where my family had to either pick up the slack or find outside means to support me.  We had to advocate a lot harder some years more than others just to get what I needed from the school.  My family had to fight one year not to have me along with all the kids with autism in my homeschool ‘kicked out’ and moved to a program being run out of another school for autistic kids.  We felt we were being segregated and this was not a way to support and ensure integration into our community which is so important.  It was a horrible experience we went through dealing with this uncertainty.  Although a lot of the students got moved, my family fought hard to keep me in my homeschool and won.  Having kept in touch with those families, those kids who moved are no further ahead than I am and in some cases I’m doing better. 

Staying in my home school and my community allowed me to make friends in my own neighborhood that I still have and to become very familiar with my community.  The inconsistency and uncertainty was not right as I have a right to a proper education as anyone else in this country, and it was unfair to me and my family to deal with this additional stress, financially and emotionally that was put on us because of this inconsistency and uncertainty.  Being a person with Autism routine and consistency are two of the most important things we need to be successful, these situations were not good. 

The therapies at Giant Steps together with academics and the time spent at my neighbourhood school with a Giant Steps EA made such a difference for me – it was all 3 things. Closing Giant Steps would be a terrible thing to do when it could help so many more kids like me to establish a good foundation in order to reach their goals regardless of what obstacles they may face.

Thank you for listening.”

“Through you, Madam Chair, I would like to speak to the trustees as a former Giant Steps student.

My name is Nikki Shapiro, and I started at Giant Steps in September of 2006. I had access to services which, at the time, I had no idea would help me out so much in the long run. I received direct therapy there, which helped me gain confidence in myself and molded me into the person I am today. I had a short but meaningful experience there. Little did I know that 3 years at this school would put me in the best position for my future. As part of my experience at Giant Steps, I was still going to my neighborhood school, with support from an EA. This prepared me for life outside of Giant Steps and having to go to mainstream school full time. When I started going to mainstream school full time, I started to become more independent. It was different because I didn’t have any support from EA’s, which I did get used to over time.

My parents would say that without Giant Steps, I would not be where I am today, ready to graduate grade 12 next semester, with grades allowing me to further my education in college. It takes a village to raise any child. Giant Steps had the teachers, tools and expertise to help get the absolute best out of me and prepare me for mainstreaming in public school. The work and assistance they gave me before and during made mainstreaming into public school invaluable.

I will finish grade 12 next semester, and graduate with subjects and grades that will give me many options for college. I have received a number of certificates of achievement and honours each year I’ve been in high school. My teachers have told my parents that I have really excelled in their special needs program.

At the end of the day, I have Giant Steps to thank for giving me the amazing start to my education. I am very proud to have been a student at Giant Steps.

Thank you.”