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Autism in the Classroom

WebMD talks to parents, therapists, and educators for advice on how to help children with autism thrive in the classroom.

Autism in the classroom: Schools for learning differences

Some parents feel that traditional schools don’t have the resources to train teachers. Or they feel they don’t have the resources to keep up with the challenges and demands of a child with autism in the classroom. Those concerns have prompted some parents to start their own schools.

For instance, eight years ago, Tamara Spafford along with three families founded the Lionheart School in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Spafford is now the school’s executive director. She says she helped start the school because when she looked at private and public schools something was missing. She couldn’t find anything as good as what she was doing for her daughter at home.

“We needed to get out of the basement,” she says. “And we needed a supportive, loving community. We also needed a school.”

Spafford says she and the other founding families didn’t want to battle school systems. They also “didn’t want to lose time.” There is no known cure for autism. Experts believe, though, that early and steady intervention is key in helping children learn the social skills and strategies they need. When they have those skills and strategies they can communicate. At the same time, behavioral problems can be addressed before they become major impediments.

The Lionheart School’s director of special services is Victoria McBride. She says the school’s approach goes beyond teaching skills. “We teach children to be thinkers and problem solvers. And we teach them how to use those strategies in appropriate ways.”

Elizabeth Litten Dulin is Lionheart’s director of education and admissions. She says, “Oftentimes, older children who come to us have had lots of school failure and disappointment. And that takes a toll.” She adds that you “can have a strong impact if you start early.”

The Lionheart School, like a few others across the U.S., uses a developmental clinical approach in a school setting.

Calls come from all over the country. The school has 32 full-time students.

Jacob’s Ladder is another special school. It’s founder, Amy O’Dell, home schooled her son Jacob for a few years. Then ten years ago she founded Jacob’s Ladder, a “neurodevelopmental learning center” for children with any type of developmental delay.

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