September 22, 2020

BY NATHAN BROWN

Conestoga College’s mental health initiative has been granted $122,000 to help students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) adjust to post-secondary education.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Mental Health Innovation Fund (MHIF) awarded the college the grant for its Mindfulness for Mental Health project.

“Ultimately this grant is to run this program and to evaluate it, to see if it’s effective,” said Leanne Gosse, the project manager.

Janos Botschner, chair, Community Safety, in the School of Health and Life Sciences and Community Services, got the grant and brought the project to life. The majority of the grant is going toward supporting trainers, materials, development and evaluation.

The project, only offered at Conestoga College’s Doon campus, focuses on students with ASD, a disorder that causes difficulty with transitions and focusing.

Gosse said students with ASD are “more likely than the general population to have more concerns going to college,” due to the difficulties with transitioning.

“Mindfulness training can potentially reduce negative thoughts and ruminations,” Gosse said. “It may decrease the likelihood that individuals with ASD may struggle with anxiety and depression.”

Mindfulness training attempts to teach students to be in the present, to help them focus and identify what they are experiencing.

“Mindfulness teaches people how to learn to deal with their emotions and thoughts in the present moment, and accept them as they are,” said Sandy Lozano, a fourth-year student in the community and criminal justice degree program, who co-oped with Gosse this past summer as a research assistant.

The Centre for Mindfulness in Toronto has had past successes in using mindfulness training for those with anxiety, depression and addiction problems. The centre is working with Conestoga to develop the program.

The college also met with accessibility and counselling services, which are going to help with recruitment of students for the project. Conestoga Students Inc. will also be helping out by promoting the initiative.

Sessions begin Oct. 20, with one two-hour session running once a week for eight weeks.

Students can email mindfulnessMH@conestogac.on.ca to register.

Registation closes on Sept. 29, but if the group doesn’t fill up right away, the project will still accept applications.

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