Private and public schools across the country offer educational and therapeutic programs for young children and adults living with autism and related developmental disorders. Both residential and day academic programs provide specialized academic instruction to autistic students while also enhancing behavior, independent living, and vocational skills.
For older students, many colleges and universities have developed autism programs that provide additional services to students on the spectrum. These programs help students with autism adjust to campus life, live independently, and be successful academically and socially in college and beyond.
How Autism Affects Learning
Autism is a complicated disorder that impacts language, communication, and learning. In additional to symptoms of autism, many autistics individuals also struggle with learning disabilities. The combination of these factors makes a significant impact on how students with autism successfully access education.
Autism can affect learning in many ways. Students with autism may experience:
- A strong need for routine in the classroom.
- Issues with unstructured times, finding them highly challenging.
- Intense or narrow interests.
- Lack of organization and planning skills.
- Difficulty processing sensory information.
- Anxiety and frustration.
- Behavior challenges.
A general education classroom setting is often not sufficiently equipped to meet the unique needs of students on the autism spectrum. For this reason, many families select schools and programs that specialize in addressing the unique strengths and challenges that individuals with autism face.
Some children on the spectrum are able to successfully attend a general education classroom with moderate supports and interventions. For autistic students who need greater support, there are many high-quality autism programs available.
Top Schools for Autistic Students in 2020
To meet the unique needs of those with autism, public, private, and charter schools for students with autism and learning disabilities have been established throughout the country. These schools consider the challenges autistic students face and specialize in supporting children with autism academically and socially, for lifelong learning.
Here are some of the top schools for children and young adults with autism:
- The Autism Academy of Learning: Located in Toledo, Ohio, this public charter school serves children diagnosed with autism. It is designed to meet the learning challenges caused by autism, as well as other disabilities, and teaches academics as well as everyday behavior and independent living skills.
- The Jericho School: Specialized, evidenced-based education is provided to children with autism and other developmental disorders at this school located in Jacksonville, Florida. Verbal and applied behavior analysis (ABA) principles are incorporated into individualized education plans for each student.
- Lionsgate Academy: Located in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Lionsgate Academy is a public charter school for children entering grades 7 through 12. A transition program is also available for students who are 18 to 21 years old. All students are welcome at Lionsgate, though the program emphasizes meeting the unique needs of students on the autism spectrum and students with other learning differences.
- The Victory Center: For children ages 3 to 15, the Victory Center offers a year-round school program for children with autism and related disabilities. Located in North Miami Beach, Florida, the autism program provides specialized, evidenced-based programs to help children and their families reach their full potential.
- The Camphill School: The only Waldorf school in the country that exclusively serves children with special needs, the Camphill School strives to create wholeness for children with developmental disabilities. Residential and day academic and prevocational programs are offered for children entering kindergarten though 12th grade in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania.
- Heartspring: Offering a residential and day school, pediatric services, and autism services, Heartspring is a leading provider of services and therapies for children ages 5 to 21. The school is located in Wichita, Kansas, but students come from across the country to attend this program that encompasses all areas of students’ lives.
Colleges for Students With Autism
For autistic students who are considering attending college, there are many colleges and universities across the country that offer programs designed specifically for students with autism. Here is a selection of college programs that offer services to support personal and academic success for students with autism in 2020:
- Bellevue College: Located in Bellevue, Washington, the school’s Neurodiversity Navigators program offers courses focused on preparing autistic students for successful careers by developing skills, such as stress management, self-advocacy, communication, and more. Teachers and peer mentors support autistic students. Parental involvement is encouraged.
- University of West Florida: Through the Argos for Autism program, the University of West Florida offers individualized social, academic, and career support for students with autism. Professional coaches support the transition to college and help with academic planning.
- Marshall University: Located in in Huntington, West Virginia, the Autism Training Center at Marshall University provides daily support to autistic students, including regular meetings with advisors for goal setting, planning, and to connect with social events around campus.
- University of South Florida: The Learning Academy at the University of South Florida is a 30-week course that focuses on career development and gaining real-world skills. Through group activities and mentorships, students develop skills that are necessary for finding internships and job opportunities that match their skills and interests.
- Kent State University: Located in Kent, Ohio, this school offers a variety of autism programs through its Autism Initiatives. Programs focus on supporting autistic students by connecting them with resources on campus to help them be successful. The programs also work to spread autism awareness and understanding.
- Western Kentucky University: Located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky University provides an individualized education program to every student in the program. Students benefit from mentors who help them adjust to living on campus. It also offers community and social activities for students with autism.
The above list is only a snapshot of colleges and universities across the country that offer programs designed to support the success of autistic students in 2020. The programs vary in price, services, and accommodations, so it is important to find a program that meets all of your or your child’s needs.
Online vs. In-Person Programs
For students with autism who would benefit from an online education rather than attending a residential or day program, there are many options available. For younger children, homeschool autism programs are available online. Many online homeschool programs are customizable to meet your child’s strengths and can be worked through at your child’s own pace.
Homeschool programs fit for children with autism include the following:
Many of the above online programs are best suited for children with high-functioning autism. Students who are able to follow task lists and directions are often able to complete the programs with minimal parental involvement.
For students who need more support, parents may need to be more involved with the learning process. For parents of children with moderate or severe autism, homeschooling may become their full-time job.
While online programs do not offer the social interactions that traditional schools do, they provide the opportunity to customize lessons to meet your child’s strengths and challenges. Additionally, for families who do not live close to schools that offer autism programs or are not able to relocate, online learning offers a way to bring an autism program into your home at a much more affordable price.
For older students and young adults interested in continuing their education beyond high school, many colleges and universities across the country offer online programs and services specifically for students with autism.
What to Look For
When selecting the right autism program for your child, it is important to consider many factors, including your child’s learning and development needs as well as the needs of the family. The National Autistic Society of the UK explains that there is a wide range of interventions for children and adults with autism, and it can be challenging to choose the best fit.
When selecting an autism program, consider the following questions:
- Is the program evidenced-based?
- Is the program customized to each student?
- Are your child’s unique strengths and challenges taken into account?
- Does the program focus on teaching academic as well as real-world skills?
- Do qualified professionals deliver the curriculum?
- Is the program regularly reviewed and updated?
- Does the program provide a good value for the time and money invested?
When selecting a program for your child, it is also important to watch out for any red flags. Signs that a program may not be entirely what it seems include:
- Celebrity endorsements.
- Commercialization of the program.
- Use of outdated research, or non-peer-reviewed research, to support the efficacy of the program.
- Hard-sell techniques, such as limited-time discounts and special offers.
- Promises of a cure, miracle, or complete recovery.
- Claims of rapid and high success rates.
- Claims of ease of use and little to no required training.
- Lack of contact details.
While there are many factors to look out for on your search for the right autism program for your child, there are also many highly reputable, evidenced-based schools and programs that are designed to support the success of every student. In 2020 and beyond, programs across the country offer support and services to help children and adults living with autism reach their full academic and personal potential.
Choosing an Approach. (June 2016). National Autistic Society.
In the Classroom. (April 2017). National Autistic Society.
Teaching Tips for Children and Adults With Autism. (December 2002). Indiana Resource Center for Autism.
Principles for Autism Interventions. (June 2018). Research Autism.
Who We Are. The Autism Academy of Learning.
About Us. The Jericho School.
About Us. Lionsgate Academy.
Programs. The Victory Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.
Who We Are. The Camphill School.
About Us. Heartspring.
Neurodiversity Navigators. Bellevue College.
Student Accessibility Resources. University of West Florida.
WV Autism Training Center. Marshall University.
The Learning Academy Services at USF. University of South Florida.
Autism Initiatives. Kent State University.
Kelly Autism Program. Western Kentucky University.
About Us. ABCmouse.com.
About the ACE. The New England Center for Children.
Free Resources. All About Learning Press.
How to Use. Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool.
Our Programs. Gemm Learning.
Programs. Learning Without Tears.
About Memoria Press. Memoria Press.
About Miquon Math Labs. Miquon Math Labs Materials.
Curriculum Kits. Timberdoodle.
Frequently Asked Questions. Time4Learning.