An Updated Evaluation of the Autism Ontario Realize Community Potential Program

Thursday, May 17, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
3:00 PM
M. Thompson1, J. H. Schroeder2, J. M. Bebko2, M. Spoelstra1, S. Duhaime1, K. Manuel1 and L. Verbeek1, (1)Autism Ontario, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background:  The Realize Community Potential (RCP) Program was developed to directly support parents of children with ASD through: greater access to information, direct contact between parents and Autism Ontario chapters, improved access to experts in local communities, and increased community-based learning opportunities for children with ASD. The RCP program started in 2007 as a pilot program through 6 community chapters, was expanded to a 7th chapter in 2008, and will be expanded across the province of Ontario in 2012. A Knowledge Project evaluation team has been a part of the program since its inception. This presentation is a follow-up three years after an earlier presentation at IMFAR in 2009.   

Objectives:  Major goals of this evaluation are to determine the ability of the RCP program to meet the stated objectives.

Methods:  Baseline and follow-up questionnaires were administered to compare chapter activity before and after the inception of the RCP program. Short-term stress surveys were completed during contacts with families. A longer-term stress measure evaluated parents’ perceived ability to navigate the system and act as a child’s advocate, and their perceptions of severity of child symptoms and stress associated with those symptoms at first contact, and at 18-36 month follow-up. Francophone families completed a separate/different survey about services and barriers to accessing services.  

Results:  There was a substantial increase in the number of chapter events offered since inception of the RCP program, with almost 90% of participants indicating that their expectations were met or exceeded. Event topics of most interest to families included: behaviour, social skills development, and communication. 

The average number of calls to RCP chapters per month has significantly increased. Top reasons for contact were related to Autism Ontario services, school issues, and community services. Overall, families showed a very modest decrease in stress during their contacts with chapters, but those rated as being ‘in crisis’ when first contacting the RCP coordinator were rated as a having the greatest decrease in stress at the end of the contact period. 

Parents’ reports on the longer-term stress measures were not significantly different from baseline to follow-up; however they are reporting higher quality of life and showing improvements in their perceived abilities to advocate for their child and to navigate the system of services.

Language was the third most commonly reported reason for Francophone families being unable to access services; almost half reported not accessing at least one type of service because it was not available in French. The services most frequently not accessed due to language restrictions were: special leisure activities, registered behaviour management services, and regional IBI programs. 

Conclusions:  Program evaluation is a critical element in evaluating the impact of programs, particularly those funded by government. The RCP evaluation has been important in identifying effective components to guide future program development and allocation of funding resources.  

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