Backpacks, new lunchboxes, and first-day jitters… the earmarks of back-to-school time! For some students with autism in Louisiana, this school year will be a little different. This school year could mean finally feeling like they fit in during class time and can be excited to go to school. And this time, it won’t mean that their parents have to sell the family farm to afford expensive private school tuition.
The Emerge School for Autism grew from an increasing need for autism-appropriate services in the Louisiana school systems. The school will open its doors to 20 children ages five to 11 for the 2018/2019 school year, and will grow to serve 120 children over time. Students and their parents will not be charged tuition to attend the specialized school.
The Emerge Center started as a therapy center for children with speech and hearing challenges and grew into one of the limited autism resources in Louisiana. In the early 2000s, the center started offering services to help children with autism transition into the public school setting.
But students who did well in Emerge programs still struggled with the transition to public schools. The new public school environments lacked key educational and therapeutic tools the students needed, mostly because of limited resources. A study of ASD resources in the Baton Rouge area found that schools generally decided against implementing curriculums with Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA therapy has been shown to decrease the need for special services and help people transfer skills between different situation. ABA is a commonly used therapy for people with autism.
The Baton Rouge community, and really, thousands of people touched by autism around the world, have been asking for extended services for years. Now the Emerge School, small though it is, will provide a beginning for children with autism who need a different type of education, and they won’t be kept away because of ability to pay.
The school’s curriculum will be planned around the needs of individual children and, in addition to ABA, will use speech-language and occupational therapy to help students prepare for other educational and social settings.
The school hopes to help children improve communication, independence, self-help skills, and academic readiness. The school will also focus on social-emotional learning and will collect data daily to see what methods are working and how they can further improve each’s student’s experience.
The Emerge School’s Mission is to use evidenced-based strategies to enable children with autism “to reach their full potential and transform their lives.”
We hope that this school will grow quickly and that the Emerge School will be followed by many other autism-friendly or autism-focused schools around the country and the world. Everyone should have the chance to learn—without a hefty price tag.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.