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Student-Led Environments to Deliver Virtual Autism Supports for Wait-times (SLED-VAST)

*please note: This website is in redevelopment as NEST (Network for Education, Scholarship, and innovaTion in autism care)*

SLED-VAST is a Student-Led Learning Environment (SLE) supported by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) Ontario Autism Program (OAP) Workforce Capacity Fund (Jan 1, 2022-Mar 31, 2023; Apr 1, 2023-Mar 31, 2024).

SLED-VAST's Consortium & learners received the Ministry of Colleges and Universities' 2021/2022 Minister's Awards of Excellence in the category of Future-Proofing Ontario's Students, recognizing faculty and staff who have led the way in adapting programs that support new ways of learning.

Minister Award

SLED-VAST's partners include (but are not limited to):

CACHE logo

University of Toronto's
Centre for Advancing Collaborative Healthcare & Education (CACHE)
at University Health Network


SLED-VAST project activities will be undertaken with 3 areas of focus:

1. SLED-VAST Consortium

The Consortium is responsible for:

  • Ensuring that the SLED-VAST initiative is a genuinely and meaningfully partnered co-creation of a new SLE
  • Building partnerships and establishing connections to ensure representation and impact (including adding Consortium members as needed)
  • Informing, reflecting on, and sharing practical developments, including future opportunities for scale-up and sustainability

2. SLED-VAST Learning Opportunity (more details below)

Learners will be involved in co-creating and co-delivering projects that will contribute to foundational supports for early autism services during wait-times

3. Research & Evaluation

Ongoing scholarship about and evaluation of SLED-VAST will occur in partnership with the Consortium.
Knowledge mobilization of dialogic approaches and coaching supports will be embedded into the SLEs.

SLED-VAST Principles

Adapted from SLE Steering Committee Student-Led Environment Principles

Collaboration and Partnership Across Sectors
SLED-VAST aims to reciprocally engage educational institutions, hospitals, patients/clients and families, community organizations, and non-clinical care providers through knowledge mobilization and collaboration. In doing so, power, privilege, equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA) between and among partners and who/how we engage are continuously considered and attended to. Within these EDIA considerations, we will pay particular attention to how Indigenous perspectives and knowledges are recognized, valued, and integrated into how we work together.

Interprofessional Student Learning
SLED-VAST promotes comprehensive practice, care, and/or education by fostering interprofessional skills and knowledge development by engaging students and supervisors of at least 2 different professions. Skilled interprofessional facilitators address and foster critical reflection on the inherent power dynamics in interprofessional education and practice.

Student Led Environments (SLEs) attend to physical and psychological safety measures, ensuring that they are updated as needed (e.g. Covid protocols). Psychological safety is balanced with the inherent discomfort of transformative education (and attending to the differences between discomfort and harm).

Learning Through Leading: Acknowledging and Sharing Power
SLED-VAST uses leadership to engage and support students’ learning, while striving to disrupt and transcend the conventional hierarchy that exists between students and educators, as well as acknowledging the power relations between institutions and communities, professions, and patients/clients/families. SLED-VAST offers opportunities for growth by inviting and inspiring critical reflection, mutual trust, and supported risk-taking/leadership.

Addressing Gaps or Unmet Needs
The purpose of SLEs is to address the unmet needs of the community/ies they intend to support. Each SLE is unique and creates new program plans based on continual partnership and engagement with partners to identify and address service gaps and system needs.

Hold Space for Indeterminacy
SLED-VAST acknowledges uncertainty and value-conflicted experiences that recognize unique contexts, ongoing work, and different ways of knowing, thinking, and doing. SLED-VAST is adaptable and responsive to emergent conditions and focuses on creating explicit space for curiosity, wondering, dwelling in the uncertainty and making space for “stories without endings” (Kumagai & Naidu 2020).

Radical Transparency
All decision-making processes, roles and responsibilities, accountabilities, and liabilities relevant to the SLE are identified, clearly articulated, and shared including with learners, educators, patients/clients/families, and other system partners.

Showing Meaningful Impact
Through continual reflection, ongoing and developmental evaluation and assessment using meaningfully aligned indicators, and communication of core values, SLEs demonstrate their role in addressing service or resource gaps for people, learners, teams, and organizations.

Calling All Health Professional Learners - Volunteer with Us!

SLEs are workplace-based learning opportunities where health professional learners, under the supervision and support of preceptors and facilitators, collaborate to address a significant and identified gap in the workplace that would otherwise not be met and/or adds to existing service delivery and engage in student leadership.

SLED-VAST will provide foundational supports for autistic children and their families in northern communities during wait-times through two projects. First, students will inform the development of tools and training to support clinicians to feel confident initiating conversations with parents regarding pursuing an autism diagnostic assessment. This project will build capacity in students and the clinician workforce to identify early signs of autism and support families through the process of early detection and pursuance of an autism diagnosis, with the aim of reducing families’ overall wait-time to a diagnosis and thus access to OAP services. Second, the Kids Appreciating Neurodiversity (KAN) program (adapted from the UK Learning About Neurodiversity in Schools [LEANS] program) will provide wraparound community support services to families waiting for Core Clinical Services. This project is designed to facilitate community building in partnership with educators to build understanding of neurodiversity within the classroom/school context. It serves as a form of social intervention, thus transforming our tendency to locate the problem and burden of disability within individuals and instead examine how society and structures might be disabling.

The initiative will build students’ leadership and interprofessional collaboration competencies, in a learning and practice environment informed by the transformative paradigm of education and critical pedagogy practices. By inspiring critical reflection – that is, questioning, challenging, and disrupting potentially harmful assumptions and norms in practice – SLED-VAST provides students with a way to reimagine and enact more collaborative, compassionate ways of being and practicing, both for this specific initiative but also as a framework in their future learning and clinical practice.

Description of Student Roles (What Learners Will Get to Do)

  • Training in an interprofessional student-led environment (SLE) informed by the transformative paradigm of education; autism & diagnosis; alternative ways of conceptualizing autism (e.g. neurodiversity); engagement with Holland Bloorview’s Family as Faculty (parents of children/teenagers with autism).
  • Applying learning to inform SLED-VAST projects by connecting with clinicians and designing and delivering projects 2 (early identification of autism screening tool) & project 2 (Kids Appreciating Neurodiversity KAN PRogram)
    • Pilot project 1 tool and project 2 curriculum with clinicians and teachers - increasing collaborative capacities and understanding interprofessionally and intersectorally (i.e. working at the clinic-school interface)
  • Learning with, from, and about health professions learners in the OnTrack Transitions program ( and increasing awareness of one's role in supporting children with complex care needs in primary care settings.
  • Engaging in quality improvement, principles-focused evaluation, and disseminating impacts of the SLED-VAST initiative.

Time Commitment - Rolling Start, Long-term Commitment

5-6 hours/week (2-3 hours synchronous aka meetings, project work time; 2-3 hours asynchronous project work) for 2 months.

Cohorts - when registering (, please indicate which cohort you are interested in, thank you. Exact meetings times TBD depending on students registered & working together to find synchronous meeitng times that work for all schedules - usually 1 evening + 1 weekday work hour meeting.

Cohort 5: Sep 18, 2023-Nov 18, 2023 - full
Cohort 6: Oct 16, 2023-Dec 22, 2023 - space available
Cohort 7: Jan 15, 2024-Mar 16, 2024 - waitlist only
Cohort 8: Feb 19, 2024-Apr 26, 2024 - space available

Additional information available via SLED-VAST Information Sheet for Potential Partners.

Contact the SLED-VAST Consortium:

SLED-VAST Consortium

  • Gayle Adams-Carpino, Faculty, Interprofessional Education-Laurentian University  Division of Human Sciences, NOSM University
  • Michelle Addison, Director, Health Professions & Collaborative Practice, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre
  • Amanda Binns, SLP, PhD, Adjunct Research Professor, Western University, Clinical Manager & Co-Lead, SLED-VAST
  • Victoria Boyd, PhD, MPC. Post-doctoral fellow, CanChild, McMaster University
  • Wenonah Campbell, Associate Professor; John and Margaret Lillie Chair in Childhood Disability Research; Scientist, CanChild, Speech-Language Pathology Program School of Rehabilitation Science
  • Farah Friesen, Manager, Research & Knowledge Mobilization, CACHE and Co-Lead, SLED-VAST
  • Sharon Gabison, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto
  • Sylvia Langlois, Associate Professor, Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto and Associate Director, Curriculum & Faculty Relations, CACHE


  • Dean Lising, Lecturer, Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto and Integration Lead, Collaborative Healthcare & Education, CACHE
  • Stella Ng (Co-Chair), Director & Scientist, CACHE, Associate Professor, Department of Speech-Language Pathology, University of Toronto, Scientist, Wilson Centre, and AMS Phoenix Fellow in Compassion and AI/Digital Technology
  • Kathryn Parker(Co-Chair), Associate Director, Transformative Change, CACHE; Fellow, AMS Phoenix Project; Assistant Professor, Department of Paediatrics, Temerty Faculty of Medicine University of Toronto
  • Mike Ravenek, Manager, Health Sciences, NOSM University
  • Nicole Woods, Scientist & Associate Director of Operations/UHN, The Wilson Centre, Director, The Institute for Education Research (TIER) at UHN, and Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto