By Cecily Markland
Now with two Campuses, School Addresses Special Needs of Students with Autism
Now with two locations in the East Valley, the innovative Autism Academy for Education and Development offers the “best choice for success for children with Autism throughout Arizona.”
“The Autism Academy believes that children with Autism will flourish with programming tailored to their specific needs,” says program director, Shannon Henley.
She adds that the school serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade, along “the full spectrum from high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome all the way to low, nonverbal students.”
At both the original location in Gilbert and the recently added Tempe location, which has middle school and high school grades only, students are placed in classrooms according to their age and functioning level.
“We provide an environment that is highly predictable, with a beginning, middle and end to each activity,” Henley says.
Autism Academy’s teaching model also includes small teacher-student ratios, highly qualified and certified teachers and curriculum geared to students with special needs. This is augmented with additional benefits of group rotation, the use of technology, interactive play, and classes in art, music and physical education. The school also offers pet therapy, Karate twice a year for a month each time, and, at the Tempe location, students participate in computer classes as well.
“We’re very child-focused,” Henley says. “We have highly skilled teachers, behavior specialists, speech therapists and occupational therapists.”
“There is a lot of collaboration, a lot of communication about what is going on each day,” Henley says.
This includes communication with parents, Henley says, adding that Autism Academy has several things in place to help bridge the home-school connection.
Autism Academy has an active parent organization and parent programs that include parent trainings each month.
The school was founded by Laura Newcomb, who saw a tremendous need for education that meets the needs of children with Autism. Newcomb’s passion was to provide these students an opportunity to access the “social skills, life skills development, and innovative therapies” and, ultimately, “to reach their highest potential.”
“Here, students feel included. They get the individualized support they need. But, we also have high expectations. We’re always pushing them forward, helping them find success.”
“Our goal is to help each student become a productive, contributing member of society, at whatever level they can be,” Henley says. “We don’t want them to just gain information, but to be able to use all the information they’ve learned.”
Autism Academy has found innovative ways to collaborate with publicly funded schools, so they can offer high quality education at an affordable rate and through scholarships to “keep the cost lower for everyone,” Henley says.