Selecting a school for an autistic child, especially one who is not high-functioning, is a heavy responsibility. The decision may have a profound and long-lasting impact on the child’s life and family. Because autism is so heart-rending, parents are often willing to try and do just about anything to help their autistic child. Taking a second mortgage, selling one’s house, and relocating are not uncommon.
It’s therefore with trepidation that we offer this article on schools for children with autism. In many of our articles here at TheBestSchools.org, we rank schools and provide positive recommendations about programs; and even though we check and double-check our facts, if we’ve made a mistake or missed something, it’s unlikely to have dire consequences.
Not so with this article. The decisions struggling parents of autistic children make in response to this article may be life changing, for good or ill. We have therefore tried to be scrupulously accurate in the information provided here. Moreover, we did not feel it appropriate to rank schools for children with autism, as though these schools admit a straight linear ordering and that parents of autistic children should vie to get their children into the “top schools.” There is too much sorrow connected with this disability to play such games.
So, as you read this article, please do not take it as the final word. We recognize that school recommendations by parents with autistic children can be very useful. We therefore encourage parents to talk to as many other parents as they can about schools they are considering. We also encourage them to talk with special education advocates and attorneys, who are good sources of information regarding which school districts to seek and which to avoid.
From Special Ed to Schools Specifically Targeting Autism
Because autism can be so debilitating to children, parents are often urged to seek out programs that go beyond the special education resources available in public schools. Ideally, such programs use treatment procedures and methods with a documented history of effectiveness—programs that have been well researched and shown to significantly help autistic children. Yet just what sort of intervention will in fact help an autistic child is often hard to say in advance.
In any case, and despite such caveats, many parents desire to place their autistic children in private schools specifically dedicated to helping children with that disability. These schools provide strong therapeutic interventions, tailored for children with autism. However, these schools are expensive; the tuition can easily be as high as $75,000 per year.
The tuition for these private schools may sometimes be paid, at least in part, by local school districts. Typically, in order for a school district to cover the expense of a private school, parents are required to prove to the school district that no available public school can meet their child’s needs.
State Legislation for Health Plans
This web page provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures includes the names of the 29 states that have enacted autism insurance reform laws requiring state-regulated health plans to provide coverage for the treatment of autism.
If you live in one of these states, or you’re considering moving to one of these states, use the State Autism Reform Initiative Map to get information about the state’s autism insurance law and what it requires health plans to cover. After clicking on the state, click on the name of the state on the web page you land on and scroll down to find the information on the state’s autism insurance law.
According to the Wall Street Journal, insurers in these states with autism insurance reform laws will have to cover treatments until the federal health care law, currently scheduled for 2014, is implemented. Currently, in some states insurers can deny coverage of developmental disorders because they’re considered an educational service.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and DIRFloortime
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is commonly utilized in schools to teach children with autism. ABA has been endorsed by The National Institutes of Health, the Surgeon General, and the Association for Science in Autism Research.
DIR/Floortime is also commonly used in schools. DIR/Floortime is based on the works of the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan, formerly Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences, and Pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School, and Chairman of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders.
Possible Drawback of Private Schools
Some parents are concerned that kids attending schools for children with autism only interact with other kids with autism and people who understand them and care for them. They believe the kids don’t have enough opportunities to learn the coping skills they’re likely to need after they graduate.
Many schools for kids with autism try to compensate for this by providing opportunities for students to interact with the public in a variety of settings.
Guidelines for Our List of Schools
Our list includes nationally recognized schools, as well as schools which have received special recognition from an expert or organization, a notable award, or a ranking from a notable organization. We also consider the backgrounds of the faculty, the types of services available, the faculty-to-student ratio, and other factors.
The schools on our list are private (the vast majority), unless otherwise indicated.
TheBestSchools did extensive research on the Web and gathered information from relevant organizations and experts via email inquiries. We strongly encourage parents to thoroughly research any of the schools on the list they’re considering. We recommend that parents ask a school representative for testimonials from parents, as well as contact parents who have not voluntarily provided a testimonial. Ask local special education advocates and special education attorneys if they have any information about the schools.
We realize there are some very good schools worthy of consideration not included in the list. There are excellent schools that have not received recognition from notable sources, awards, or rankings. If school representatives believe their school meets our criteria, or any parent believes their child’s school meets the criteria for our list, please use our contact form to send us information about the school. If TheBestSchools agrees, the school will be included in the updated editions of the list.
It should be noted that TheBestSchools is not recommending schools; we are only providing information. TheBestSchools has no connection with any of these schools.
Applied Behavior Consultants, Sacramento
Applied Behavior Consultants provides schools designed to meet the needs of kids diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorder between the ages of three and 18. Schools are located in Sacramento and Ontario, California.
Joseph Morrow, PhD, BCBA, President of Applied Behavior Consultants, received the Outstanding Service Award presented by Families for Effective Autism Treatment. He also received an award from the Association for Behavior Analysis International for Outstanding Contributions to the International Dissemination of Behavior Analysis.
Brenda Terzich-Garland, Vice President of Applied Behavior Consultants, also received the Outstanding Service Award presented by Families for Effective Autism Treatment.
The students receive Intensive Behavioral Treatment (IBT) within a language-based, applied behavior analysis educational setting where teaching is highly structured. Each child’s curriculum includes functional activities, critical language skills, initiation/spontaneity, socialization, and generalization of mastered concepts/skills.
The goal is to prepare students for reintegration into their neighborhood school. Each classroom has a credentialed teacher, a lead behavior technician, and technicians. The classrooms provide a 1:1.5 technician-to-student ratio for students ages three to nine and a 1:2 ratio for students ages nine to 12.
Applied Behavior Consultants provides classroom consultations for specific students and autism classroom training and consultation to school districts. Applied Behavior Consultants trains staff members nationally and internationally.
Kendall School & Therapeutic Pathways, Inc., Modesto
Kendall School & Therapeutic Pathways, Inc., is an agency and school serving students with autism spectrum disorders. The Kendall Schools are located in Elk Grove, Modesto, Sacramento, Stockton-Lodi-Galt, and Tracy, California. The organization also provides consultation services to school districts. The school’s goal is to improve the social functioning of children and teenagers. The Kendall School provides a center-based intensive ABA program.
The Edutopia website, part of the notable George Lucas Educational Foundation, reports that the Kendall School has received praise for its program. The organization reports that its work has been published in peer-reviewed journals and has been cited over 100 times in the treatment literature by a wide range of professionals, including a group empanelled by the American Academy of Pediatrics to describe best practices. The staff members also regularly present papers at state, regional, and national conferences.
Land Park Academy, Sacramento
The Land Park Academy is a nationally recognized school for kids with autism. The school serves students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders from three to 22 years of age. The Land Park Academy provides services to Sacramento Valley school districts. The academy has multiple Sacramento campus locations.
The academy offers intensive, individualized educational programs developed for each student based on assessments to determine skill deficits, general adaptive functioning, and behaviors interfering with learning. The program has a strong behavioral basis while addressing every individual through wide-ranging programming.
The academy provides onsite occupational and speech therapy and has a 1:1.5 student-to-staff ratio. Classroom and group skills are targeted to support students for potential success in public school settings. Placement of students at the academy is made through the joint cooperation of each student’s home district, the Land Park Academy, and the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) team.
May Center for Child Development Schools, Santa Cruz
Please read the description of the May Center for Child Development Schools located in the Massachusetts section of the list.
Carrie Brazer Center for Autism & Alternative Approaches, Inc., Miami
Carrie Brazer Center for Autism & Alternative Approaches, Inc., a nonprofit and a nationally recognized school, serves students in elementary, middle, and high school. The center provides a vast amount of support for children and their families. The center has licensed speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists. Licensed social workers aid the family through psychotherapy and bi-weekly support meetings and parent training classes.
An individual program is designed to meet the specific developmental, educational, and emotional needs of each child and its family. Professionals, neurologists, and pediatricians within the community also host monthly workshops for parents to learn about the newest approaches to help children with autism.
The programs consist of highly structured, consistent-behavior-based instruction, combined with opportunities to generalize new skills and behaviors through being involved in community-based outings. The center uses applied behavior analysis.
The center offers full-day therapy programs. The full-day school program serves middle school and high school students and runs for 40 weeks. Children receive seven hours of intensive, hands-on educational training, behavior modification, and cognitive-sensory-based activities. The classrooms have small student-to-teacher ratios and are staffed by a master’s degree–level, Florida-certified special education teacher plus one trained teacher assistant per classroom. The program provides a 1:1 teacher-to-student ratio for kids who need it.
The elementary school specializes in serving kids diagnosed with classical autism spectrum disorders and other communicative and social disabilities. The program consists of highly structured, consistent-cognitive and community-based instruction based solely on the principles of positive reinforcement through the school and camp curriculum.
NewHope Academy, Niles
NewHope Academy serves students ages 11 through 21 in grades six through 12 with autism, emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, and other health impairments. The academy was named a School of Excellence in 2010-11 and 2011-12 by the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET).
The academy provides a therapeutic educational environment where students develop skills to become effective learners, gain personal insight, and develop coping strategies for their social-emotional challenges.
Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA), Fishers
The Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA) utilizes the principles and procedures of Applied Behavior Analysis to teach language, self-help, social, academic, and daily living and life skills to children with autism and related disorders in the Greater Indianapolis area. The school reports treatment is based on current research findings from the most experienced scholars in the field of behavior analysis.
BACA utilizes the B.F. Skinner analysis of Verbal Behavior within the framework of applied behavioral analysis to teach kids with language and social deficits. BACA also provides natural environment training in the community and home and has meetings with families and outside professionals to create a cohesive team to benefits clients. The Behavior Analysis Center for Autism reports the staff members receive continuous education and training in regular seminars and training sessions from its esteemed clinical team.
Dr. Carl Sundberg, BCBA-D, is Executive Director/President of BACA. He has publications in the professional journal, The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, and in A Collection of Reprints on Verbal Behavior (1998), which he also co-edited. Dr. Sundberg works with school districts and has been invited to speak at workshops and conferences across the country. Dr. Sundberg also teaches Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior at Ball State University and was president of the Hoosier Association for Behavior Analysis (HABA).
In 2003, Dr. Sundberg received the “Angels of Autism Award” as an invited presenter for The Coalition on Autism. Mark Stafford, Interim Director of the recognized Mariposa School, stated that “The Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA) based in Fishers, Indiana, is a wonderful program operated by Carl Sundberg, brother of Mark Sundberg. He is a PhD, and Mark and Carl have co-authored a number of studies.”
BACA has two buildings in Fishers, as well as facilities in Zionsville/Whitestown and Elkhart, Indiana.
Heartspring serves students from ages five to 21. The school reports that teams of specialists discover and develop the whole child using a multidisciplinary approach.
Connie Erbert, Heartspring’s Director of Autism Research, received the 2011 Lindt USA Unsung Hero Autism Award. Heartspring has twice received the National Association of Special Teachers (NASET) School of Excellence Award. Several of the teachers have been recognized as a model of excellence by Exceptional Parent magazine.
Heartspring believes all individuals with autism spectrum disorders deserve and require evidence-based interventions and services which allow them to reach their full potential and participate as fully as possible with family, communit,y and school life.
The organization of learning activities is founded upon Structured Teaching Strategies. The school believes physical structure, work systems, daily schedules, and visual organization help students transition successfully, organize time and space, build independence, increase flexibility, and obtain vocational skills.
Heartspring receives donations and tuition through school districts and state and/or federal funding. Heartspring provides many services at reduced costs and provides significant financial assistance to the children and families.
Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore
Kennedy Krieger Institute’s programs have the objective of preparing students to transition back to their communities and lead successful lives. Kennedy Krieger Institute educational programs include a K–8 program, the Kennedy Krieger High School, the LEAP program, the Montgomery County campus, the public school partnership program, and the physically challenged sports and recreation program.
The school programs provided at the Kennedy Krieger Institute have received a 2012 Leadership and Innovation in Special Education award conferred by the National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC).
The institute offers a wide range of programs to support the inclusion of kids with special needs. The programs are provided through their nationally recognized day schools and partnership programs in public schools across Maryland. The Kennedy Krieger School programs also serve students from Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania.
The knowledge the institute’s educational professionals have acquired through their unique experiences is shared through the institute’s individualized educational training and consultant programs and its work with the Maryland State Department of Education.
The Ivymount School, Rockville
The Ivymount School, a special education day school established in 1961, serves children with autism spectrum disorders, health impairments, developmental delays, and speech and language deficits. The school has about 200 students with an age range from six to 21. The Ivymount School has been twice named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
The school provides individualized student-focused programming using research-based procedures. The program keeps a strong commitment to the advancement of research in the education and treatment of people with autism within the field of applied behavior analysis.
The Ivymount School reports that it is building expertise in using Affective Q Sensors (left) with the long-term goal of providing students with autism spectrum disorders a new way to self-regulate by acting on the warning signs of outbursts.
May Center for Child Development Schools, Randolph
May Center for Child Development schools are part of the May Institute, an award-winning nonprofit active center for research and training. The institute provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to people with autism spectrum disorders and people with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness, and behavioral needs. The May Institute established one of the first schools in the nation for children with autism.
The May Institute received the 2007 Award for Enduring Programmatic Contributions in Behavior Analysis from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis. In 2005, the May Institute received the Outstanding Training Program Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
The schools offer full-day, year-round educational services to children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. The students receive individualized behavioral, academic, and vocational programming. The programs are based on applied behavioral analysis. The teachers work with students one-on-one or in small groups.
Classroom activities emphasize all areas of a child’s development, including language, communication, self-care, social skills, and play skills. The schools provide physical, occupational, and speech therapists, as well as family support services and training, including counselors, family therapists, and social workers.
For students ages 15 to 22, the focus is on transitional skills which bolster self-confidence and promote self-sufficiency. The May Center for Child Development schools are located in West Springfield, Randolph, and Woburn, Massachusetts, and Santa Cruz, California.
New England Center for Children (NECC), Southborough
The New England Center for Children, a private nonprofit autism research and education center, is one of the oldest and largest private schools for kids with autism in the United States. The NECC provides evidence-based educational services. The NECC provides full-year day services, serving people diagnosed with autism or PDD from 14 months to 22 years of age. The day services curricula focus on academic, social, communication, play, and self-help skills.
The Edutopia website, part of the notable George Lucas Educational Foundation, called the New England Center for Children “a leading private school for autism.” In 2000, NECC received the National Award for Model Professional Development from the U.S. Department of Education. NECC reports its the only special education school to receive such recognition.
NECC has developed a wealth of curricula grounded in the principles of behavior analysis, which has been incorporated into the Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia (ACE), a web-based tool-kit. ACE is used with all of their students.
The teachers are guided by applied behavior analysis principles. Students participate in various activities which encourage them to interact with their peers, while promoting communication and social skills. The student-to-teacher ratio is 1:3. The school has about 200 students.
According to Joan Voss (right), a state assembly woman in New Jersey, statistics show that New Jersey has the highest autism rate in the nation, with one in 94 children in the state affected by an autism spectrum disorder. Steven Krapes, director of The Forum School, thinks the numbers might reflect the reality that more families with autistic kids are moving to New Jersey, not only because of its high level of education, but also due to the state’s efforts to provide innovative educational programs for the autistic community. Krapes stated “People move here for the quality of the programs. If your child falls on the spectrum, you want them to be educated in New Jersey.”
Alpine Learning Group, Paramus
Alpine Learning Group, a non-profit education and treatment program, specializes in serving individuals with autism. The school offers a full-day, one-year program for students from three to 21 years of age. Alpine Learning Group received a resolution from New Jersey assembly woman Joan Voss recognizing its outstanding program for students with special needs. The school’s mission is to provide students with autism and their families comprehensive, scientifically validated educational and behavioral services designed to foster individual growth and personal achievement.
The Alpine Learning Group uses a wide range of applied behavior analysis teaching techniques, individualized to each student. The program includes intervention in structured and natural settings, one-to-one teaching, and highly structured small group instruction, as well as individualized programming across a wide range of curriculum areas. The tuition is covered by the state.
Children’s Institute, Verona
For over 50 years the Children’s Institute has developed the academic, behavioral, social, communication, career, and life skills of children, adolescents, and young adults on the autism spectrum and with related disabilities. The institute teaches students ages three through 21. The institute received the “Innovations in Special Education” award from the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) and ASAH in 2009.
The institute utilizes an array of evidence-based strategies, including applied behavioral analysis, universal design, and differentiated instruction. The institute provides opportunities for integration into community activities and interaction with typical peers. The Children’s Institute promotes self-determination in every student to help him or her become independent and productive members of the community.
The Children’s Institute is a state-approved private school for students with disabilities. The tuition is paid by local school districts at no cost to families.
ECLC of New Jersey, Ho-Ho-Kus
Established in 1970, the nonprofit school serves students ages five to 21 with autism, learning, and/or language disabilities or multiple disabilities. The school received a resolution from New Jersey assembly woman Joan Voss recognizing its outstanding program for students with special needs. The school has been recognized for innovation by the New Jersey School Board Association and ASAH, a nonprofit organization of private schools and agencies serving students with disabilities. In 2010, the school’s teacher Diane Haderthauer was named the state’s “Educator of the Year” in a competition sponsored by ASAH.
Students are grouped together by abilities, not by grade level. The school has 105 students. They might stay in the same class for several years or move on when appropriate. The classes have a student-to-teacher ratio of 4:1 with a maximum of 12 students per class. The maximum age range in a class is four years.
Students work at their own pace, individually or in small groups. The curriculum places an emphasis on improving academics and developing the social-emotional well-being of the students.
Teachers use the SCERTS framework in every class. Students in the upper-school classes participate in a work-readiness program called SKIL (Seeking Knowledge for Independent Living). Eligibility and placement are determined by the sending district and the ECLC Child Study Team.
Forum School, Waldwick
The Forum School, founded in 1954, is a nonprofit day program for developmentally atypical children from three through 16 years of age. The program admits children with autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, developmental disabilities, and other characteristics. The school received a resolution from New Jersey assembly woman Joan Voss recognizing its outstanding program for students with special needs.
The school serves children from northern New Jersey, Rockland County, and New York City whose educational needs can’t be met in their local district. The classes are small and ungraded. The school provides parent training and a parent support group. Psycho-educational and behavioral techniques are used along with a structured, developmentally stimulating curriculum appropriate to each student’s level. The classes have a ratio of at least one adult for every student.
Teachers are certified in special education by the New Jersey Department of Education. The school has about 150 students. Tuition is covered by the sending school district for those who qualify.
Institute for Educational Achievement (IEA), New Milford
The Institute for Educational Achievement is a dissemination site of the Princeton Child Development Center Institute. The institute uses the organizational model and curriculum created, tested, and refined by the Princeton Child Development Center Institute. The school uses scientifically developed teaching techniques and a curriculum individually tailored to build upon each student’s strengths.
The program also teaches the skills required for students to become functioning members of their family and community. A goal of the school is to prepare students with autism for enrollment in public classrooms and/or vocational settings, when appropriate.
The Institute for Educational Achievement has a 1:1 staff-to-student ratio. Students spend time in individual and group sessions. The students learn social, academic, and language skills. For preschoolers, most of the day is focused on building social skills and preparing them for their educational years. As students become adolescents and young adults, the programs are tailored to emphasize the development of the daily living, social, and vocational skills needed to allow them to function with the greatest possible independence within their family and community.
Princeton Child Development Institute (PCDI), Princeton
Established in 1970, PCDI is a nonprofit program providing a broad range of science-based services, including education to children, youths, and adults with autism. PCDI reports that through its research it has pioneered comprehensive intervention modules used nationally and internationally to benefit people with autism. Preschool and school-aged children attend school five days per week. Individualized preacademic as well as academic programs are provided to children and youths ages three to 21.
The Edutopia website, part of the notable George Lucas Educational Foundation, called the Princeton Child Development Institute “a leading private school for autism.” In 1993, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis recognized the Princeton Child Development Institute as one of the three “enduring programs” in applied behavior analysis. PCDI’s work has also been recognized by the National Teaching-Family Association, the Senate of the State of New Jersey, the Norwegian Association for Behavior Analysis, and Division 25 of the American Psychological Association.
The programs teach young children to talk and play with friends and siblings, as well as to read and write. Adolescents continue academic and work-study programs while learning to participate in their homes and communities.
Small group activities alternate with intensive one-to-one sessions which teach children to participate in social situations and to relate to classmates. Every child’s schedule of learning activities is especially designed to meet its particular needs, but all the programs place an emphasis on language development and social interaction.
Somerset Hills Learning Institute, Bedminster
Somerset Hills Learning Institute, a nonprofit program, provides a broad spectrum of services to children, adolescents, and adults with autism. Somerset Hills Learning Institute, a dissemination site of the Princeton Child Development Institute, uses the organizational model and curriculum created, tested, and refined by the Princeton Child Development Institute. The school uses scientific-based education and treatment to educate students. When students become 21 years of age, they’re eligible to enter the institute’s adult services program and acquire job and life skills training to become productive, independent people.
Ascent, Deer Park
Ascent is a small nonprofit school for kids diagnosed with autism and atypical pervasive developmental disorder. The school provides a full-day, year-long academic and behavioral treatment program for students ages three to 21, preschool through 12th grade.
The Ascent education program was evaluated during the 2000-2001 school year by Dr. Jan Handleman, Director of the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, a specialist with more than 30 years of work in the field of autism at that time. He stated that Ascent is a “model program for the education of children with autism.” Ascent plays an integral role in writing curriculum for New York State’s only Master’s in Autism Education program.
The school primarily serves children with severe behavioral issues who have experienced failure in the continuum of available public special education environments and require a high degree of individualized attention and intervention.
All the teaching strategies are based on the scientifically derived principles of applied behavior analysis. The program includes intensive one-to-one sessions and small group sessions which teach children to relate to their classmates and participate cooperatively in group activities.
Autistic Services Inc., Williamsville
Autistic Services offers specialized educational and therapeutic services to children with autism spectrum disorders. Autistic Services offers full-year school services to students ages five through 21. The organization has the following goals: Independence at its highest levels, development and attainment of personal goals, societal inclusion, and normalization maximizing educational, vocational, and cultural opportunities.
Autistic Services has impressed Ruth Aspy, PhD, and Barry Grossman, PhD, of the Ziggurat Group. They’re the co-creators of The Ziggurat Model, a book on designing interventions for students with Asperger’s Disorder and high-functioning autism. The book won the 2008 Autism Society of America’s National Award for Literacy Work of the Year in Education. Aspy and Grossman believe Autistic Services addresses the whole person and has a creative and caring approach that’s apparent when people meet the staff. They emphasize having well-trained staff members.
Classes have one teacher and one teacher assistant per six kids, with additional support from clinicians and aides, including one-to-one programs, where needed. The staff members work closely with every family and the child’s home school district to develop the student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP).
Imagine Academy, Brooklyn
The Imagine Academy has students ages three to 21. Allen J. Frances, MD, Professor Emeritus and former chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Duke Medical Center, has stated that “Imagine has developed a uniquely integrated approach that combines creatively what are usually seen as the two leading competing methods, Applied Behavioral Therapy and DIR/Floortime. Imagine offers the very best in Speech, Occupational, and Music Therapy. The various components work beautifully together so that the whole is even greater than the sum of its individually excellent parts.” He went on to say that “It is my hope that Imagine becomes a prototype for schools in the region and nationally.”
Dr. Serena Wieder, PhD, co-author of Engaging Autism, Director of DIR Institute, and founder and Associate Chair of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders, has stated in a letter sent to Mr. Jemel, President of Imagine Academy, dated December 8, 2008: “This is a truly remarkable school. The dedication serving children with the most significant challenges is experienced the moment one steps into the building and feels the warmth, caring and commitment to help each child realize his or her potential.”
The Imagine Academy offers parent support groups, therapeutic swimming, speech language pathology, occupational therapy, respite program, music therapy, art therapy, and vocation/life skills training. The students participate in a daily yoga routine. The school has a 1:1 student/professional ratio.
New York Child Learning Institute (NYCLI), College Point
The New York Child Learning Institute is modeled after the Princeton Child Development Center Institute’s intervention program. The program has produced treatment and educational gains allowing children to obtain social, language, and educational skills. Instruction is presented via activity schedules consisting of one-to-one instructional sessions.
The institute emphasizes including parents in the educational process. NYCLI staff members work in the home together with the parents to develop and implement programs which help incorporate the child into the family. Parents get ongoing support and assistance to promote the transfer of a child’s newly obtained skills from school to home.
NYC Department of Education ASD Nest Program, New York City
New York City’s ASD Nest Program is an integrated co-teaching program designed for higher-functioning children in public K–5 classes with autism spectrum disorders. Models are being developed for middle and high school students.
Inclusion is the core of the program. Catherine Lord, director of the Autism & Communication Disorders Center at the University of Michigan, has stated that “Nest is probably the most effective inclusion program I have ever seen.” Brenda Smith Myles, a consultant for the Ziggurat Group, an assessment and intervention program for children with autism based in Texas, has said that “Replicating the Nest approach nationwide would greatly improve the employment outlook for people with autism.”
The inclusion program includes teachers trained to understand the special needs of kids with autism, with support from occupational and speech therapists, as well strategies for individual students.
The program was developed in collaboration with New York University and Hunter College, continuing with the partnership of Dorothy Siegel, Senior Project Director, NYU Stenhardt School of Education, and Shirley Cohen, Professor of Special Education, Hunter College, CUNY. The New York City Department of Education provides the ASD Nest program at 23 locations, serving more than 500 children on the autism spectrum.
The program, offered in supportive neighborhood schools, helps kids learn how to function well academically, socially, and behaviorally in school as well as in their community. The ASD Nest program provides a therapeutic setting where the requisite support is provided by a team of specially trained educators and therapists.
The ASD Horizon program is provided in self-contained classes in community schools to kids on the autism spectrum who work well in a classroom with a ratio of six students to two adults. The ASD Horizon program is a collaboration with the New England Center for Children and uses the ACE (Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia) curriculum. ACE is an interactive database which allows students to benefit from individualized instruction plans. Instruction is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis. The staff includes teachers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and social workers.
Rebecca School, New York City
The Rebecca School uses a developmental and interdisciplinary approach to learning, based on meaningful and respectful relationships. The school uses the DIR model, created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan (left), which is based on the belief that relationships are the foundation of learning.
The Rebecca School provides a year-around school year. The education program at the Rebecca School fosters a child’s ability to communicate, relate, and think. The objective is to create classrooms which promote a child’s ability to think critically about his or her world, rather than relying upon memory to perform trials or discrete tasks.
Mariposa School for Children with Autism, Cary
Mariposa School for Children with Autism, a non-profit organization, provides intensive instruction year-round to children with autism and other developmental disabilities. The school serves students from 18 months to 12 years of age. The school reports being frequently recommended by the faculty and staff of Duke University’s Autism program. The school also reports that families from across the nation and world have relocated in order for their child to attend the school.
Each education program is tailored to fit the needs of the student. The Mariposa School for Children with Autism reports that they reassess every student’s skills on a daily basis to monitor and modify teaching strategies as required. The teaching techniques are based on what research studies have shown to be the most effective.
The curriculum is based on the manual “Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program” (VB-MAPP), created by Mark L. Sunberg, PhD. The manual is a language and social skills assessment program for kids with autism or other developmental disabilities. The VB-MAPP combines the procedures and teaching methodology of ABA with Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior. Also, the school reports having a low staff-to-student ratio.
Haugland Learning Center, Columbus
The center serves the educational needs of more than 200 children and young adults with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and other developmental disabilities. The Haugland Learning Center has classroom-based programs in Columbus/Dublin, Portsmouth, Lancaster, Sandusky, and Pedro, Ohio. The school serves students from preschool through 12th grade. The center has received praise from Michael Slutsky, Executive Director of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation.
Every student with an autism, Asperger’s, or PDD-NOS diagnosis is eligible to receive the Autism Scholarship from the Ohio Department of Education, which can be used to pay for the educational services provided by Haughland Learning Center. Also, any student with any learning disability is eligible for placement at Haugland Learning Center by their home school district. All educational costs are covered by the Autism Scholarship or directly by school districts.
The academic programs are designed for each student’s skill level. The Haugland Learning Center uses scientifically based teaching methods. The programs help students become aware of their social skills difficulties and teaches students how to compensate and overcome them. The academic and behavioral specialists work with family members to develop educational and behavioral plans to strengthen the educational process and the home environment.
The Autism Academy of Learning, Toledo
The Autism Academy of Learning, a year-round public school, has programs designed for the needs of students with autism spectrum disorders. The academy serves students ages five through 21 in a year-round school curriculum. The academy has a student-to-teacher ratio of 7:1. The academy has about 50 students.
The Autism Academy of Learning had been ranked #3 in Ohio for Performance Index Scores. Stan Heffner, Superintendent of Public Instruction, has stated that “The ranking list is a powerful tool we can use to see how local schools stack up with similar communities around the state.”
The academy provides an appropriate foundation in the areas of academics, daily living skills, behavior, independence, and vocational skills. The Autism Academy of Learning believes vocational skills and life skills are paramount to the development of people with autism spectrum disorder. The academy uses a structured teaching program named the TEACCH Program.
Camphill Special School, Glenmoore
Camphill Special School, a nonprofit, nationally recognized school, is a Waldorf school, serving children with a variety of autism spectrum disorders and other cognitive and developmental disabilities. The curriculum offers traditional scholastic subjects and allows the students to work with their hands every day, encouraging practical, artistic, and social growth. The class teachers continue with a class from one year to the next throughout the elementary and middle school classes to develop close relationships with students and teachers. Other teachers may be responsible for special subjects.
The school provides visual, dramatic, movement arts, musical, and practical skills. Waldorf schools including the Camphill school are known for educating the whole human being; head, heart, and hands. The school provides residential, day academic, and prevocational programs. The school offers a transitional program for people ages 18 to 21.
Pace School, Pittsburgh
Pace School, a nonprofit day school, serves kids ages five to 15, K–9, with autism, emotional challenges, or pervasive developmental delay in school districts in Allegheny and surrounding counties. The program has been called excellent by the President of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. On a daily basis, the Pace School programs incorporate educational and mental health/behavioral services for every child. Supports are evidence-based and individualized to maximize each child’s achievement potential. Daily routines are highly structured. Each autism support classroom has three staff members and no more than 10 students.
Pace School uses evidence-based practices. Besides traditional academics, students in the autism support program receive intensive focus on functional communication skills development, social skills training (incorporated throughout the day), an individualized behavior support plan, and therapeutic interventions, including speech, physical, and occupational therapy, as indicated on the child’s IEP, and more.
The school reports that the verbal behavior programming supported by the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Initiative has proven to significantly increase language acquisition and functional use of language.
Pace School provides a unique alternative to traditional ESY programming for students with autism through a partnership with Gateway to the Arts. The program uses art as a context for learning, introducing students to a wide array of artistic opportunities using hands-on creative processes tailored to maintaining academic and behavioral progress—returning to school ready to learn. All referrals are required to come through the home school districts’s department of special education.
Spectrum Charter School, Inc., Monroeville
The school’s mission is providing school-to-work transition instruction in the classroom and on-site business and community-based work sites for students ages 13 to 21. The program is structured for students who don’t learn well in a typical classroom setting due to a unique cognitive, sensory, or communication challenges, including students with autism spectrum disorders.
The program has been called excellent by the President of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. The PA Bureau of Special Education stated that the program should be “commended for its community involvement and integration of technology.” Spectrum Charter School, Inc., is a two-year Partner of Duquesne University and The Autism Society of Pittsburgh’s Transition Project—a grant originating from the PA Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Autism Services.
The curriculum consists of traditional, functional, and transitional (school-to-work) academics. There’s one teacher and para-educator for every eight students. The student’s home school district pays the tuition.
Groden Center, Providence
The Groden Center, part of the Groden Network, offers day and residential programs to children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. The day program serves children and youth from three to 21 years of age. The residential program serves adolescents between the ages of 12 and 21 from Rhode Island and other neighboring states. The Groden Network is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in autism services.
The Groden Center provides instruction in functional skill development, emotional and social development, communication, domestic responsibilities, physical and recreational skills, adaptive living skill, community awareness, and vocational education.
The programs include a wide array of opportunities, including individual, small-group, and large-group instruction; home visits, family resources; community exploration; integrated experiences; sensory integration activities; as well as assistance with school and other programmatic transitions. The programs are grounded in evidence-based practice and based on applied-behavior analysis.
According to the Autism Research Institute, Dr. June Groden is regarded as one of the pioneers in the field of autism and developmental disabilities. She has focused on the development of relaxation- and imagery-based procedures for a population with autism and developmental disabilities. Dr. June Groden, Executive Director of the Groden Network, participated in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 2011 Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s Services Workshop.
Dr. Groden serves on the clinical faculty at the University of Rhode Island and is also a visiting lecturer at the Center for the Study of Human Development at Brown University. She also serves on the Panel of Professional Advisors of the Autism Society of America. She co-authored Relaxation: A Comprehensive Manual for Adults, Children, and Children with Special Needs. The Groden Network has performed considerable research in autism and has received numerous requests for their publications.
Monarch School, Houston
The Monarch School serves students in Pre-K through 12th grade and provides a post-graduate program. The school provides therapeutic education for individuals with neurological differences such as those associated with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, and others.
The Monarch School is a service of the Monarch Institute for Neurological Differences. The Monarch Institute has trained more than 5000 administrators, teachers, and religious educators at Monarch training, presentations, and consultations. The Monarch Institute received the Mental Health Association Award 2010 for outstanding community leadership. The Monarch Institute also established the Special Schools Coalition of Greater Houston which has 17 schools/centers. The school received national recognition in Newsweek‘s “Kids Who Don’t Fit In,” by Lorraine Ali (2007).
The Monarch School believes learning must be learner-centered and intrinsically motivated. The program focuses on the critical cognitive, motivational, and affective factors research suggests determine success in school and life.
The school helps students progress in four core goal areas: Executive functions, self-regulation and self-awareness, relationship development, and academic and professional competence.
Integrated multidisciplinary teams of psychologists, counselors, social workers, and therapists work with professional educators to develop relationship-based behavioral and cognitive plans, and to design tracking and reflection systems which support the student’s work through the school’s Level System. The school has a faculty-to-student ratio of 1:2.5.
Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), Charlottesville
The Virginia Institute of Autism offers education programs to students from two to 22 years of age. The Edutopia website, part of the notable George Lucas Educational Foundation, called the Virginia Institute of Autism “a leading private school for autism.” The school reports that it uses innovative, evidence-based education programs. The primary objective of VIA’s James C. Hormel School is to enable students to participate in family and community life, as well as to develop skills required for success in less restrictive educational settings.
The school uses an array of behavior analytic strategies to teach kids with autism new skills and to increase socially validated behavior. The teachers use teaching procedures based on the ABA principles with supports designed to address the unique learning characteristics of students with autism.
Every student’s program is based on his or her needs and is created with the educational team, including the student’s parents. The education program may include a combination of intensive one-on-one, discrete trial instruction, dyadic and group instruction, and incidental teaching, as well as inclusion in school, vocational, and community settings.
Each classroom has up to eight students. When a student is placed at VIA through an IEP team decision, the tuition is paid by the local school district.
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