Autism Ontario Black Caregivers Circle

Black woman sitting at a table typing on a laptop with a notepad and cup of tea beside her
Halimo Hashi, M.S.W, R.S.W., York University Faculty, Executive Director of Shifting Ways Counselling and Consulting

The monthly Black Caregivers Circle began after a workshop titled ‘Building Resilience for Black Caregivers’ which I provided to Autism Ontario. This workshop aimed to recognize the significance of race in the experience of being a Black caregiver in Canada. Using an intersectional lens, the workshop delved into the myriad of factors that impact the daily lives of both caregivers and individuals living with the challenges of autism.

Intersectionality is a theory that highlights the ways in which we are shaped in a society via the interaction between constructs such as race, gender, ability, and sexuality, and how these categories impact not only our experiences, but also how we are viewed and treated in relation to a society’s dominant group.

Using a framework of radical acceptance, the workshop began by naming the uncomfortable truths experienced by Black Canadians. Truths formed in large part through legacies of colonialism, anti-Black racism, and discriminative policies and practises. While it is easy to point the finger at our neighbours to the south, a review of Canadian statistics reveal a too similar experience for Black Canadians. Using the backdrop of Black Torontonians, let’s look at some of these truths:

  1. Black children represent 42% of children in care according to the Toronto Children’s Aid Society, despite Black Torontonians making up only 9% of the city’s population. (1)
  2. A 2018 Ontario Human Rights Commission report studying seven years of interactions between Black Torontonians and police concluded that Black residents are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police. (2)
  3. Black residents make up 85% of hate crime victims, with racism being the motivating factor. (1)
  4. Black Torontonians are more likely to fare worse in  higher educational achievement, employment, access to adequate housing, and food security. (3)

While these statistics may be surprising to some, this is the lived reality for a large portion of Black Canadians. I will add here that these experiences are echoed, if not amplified, in our Indigenous communities. To continue in the practise of naming the oft unnamed, these statistics are a direct contrast to experiences of many White Canadians, as whiteness holds a position of privilege in most Canadian spaces. 

I began this article by highlighting the initial workshop and its content, as it can help us understand the foundation that helped begin the Black Caregivers Circle. It is one thing to read or experience these disparities as an ‘able-bodied’* individual, but there is an added layer (or intersection) when an individual is a Black child or adult who experiences and interacts with the world in their own unique way that may not always be readily understood or accepted by others. There is beauty, opportunity, and joy in being Black in Canada, but there is also risk and challenge. To name these risks and challenges allows us to engage and resist.

While the truths outlined above may feel bleak and disheartening, the Black Caregivers Circle has been anything but! Autism Ontario provided us a chance to create a space where Black caregivers could come together at the end of every month and be. The circle was advertised as follows: A virtual check in and chat guided by a Black mental health professional. These monthly sessions are an opportunity for Black Caregivers supporting an individual on the autism spectrum to share and discuss their unique experiences in a welcoming and compassionate environment. 

Every month a group of new and returning Black caregivers, almost exclusively mothers, come together at the end of a long day, week, month, and hold space. The shape and structure of the circle is fluid, shifting, and flowing to accommodate the needs of the group on that particular day. Through compassion, laughter, and tears, group members share, listen, and give advice. The circle comprises of caregivers with recently diagnosed children and caregivers of adults on the spectrum. Some members were born in Canada, some have lived here for many years, and some are newcomers just starting on their journey. Members celebrate successes, listen empathetically to challenges, and give each other permission to release themselves from the double duty of having to explain the nuances of their shared experiences. 

While the category of Black in Canada is not a monolith, members develop a unique bond centered on a shared understanding and commitment to their racialized care-receiver. The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging to say the least, but one thing that it did allow is for more regular use of virtual technology that has enabled a program like this circle to exist.

I would like to thank Autism Ontario for not only recognizing the need for a group such as this, but for also actively engaging with me to ensure gaps outlined by circle members are heard.  

*With more time and space, I would take the Critical Disabilities Theory stance that the experience of disability is created through a society’s lack of accommodation and access, rather than intrinsic or inherent categories of able-bodied and disabled.

1. City of Toronto “Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism,” (2018).
2. Canadian Race Relations Foundation. 2020. Hate crime in Canada
3. Statistics Canada. 2016. Census Profile, 2016 Census, Toronto, City.