New autism-specialized charter school to open in Pleasant Grove

Published: Wednesday, July 9 2014 4:50 p.m. MDT

A waiting list will also be set up for families who don't make the first-come, first-served enrollment opportunity. For more information, visit www.spectrumcharter.org.

Utah has the second-highest prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the country, with one in 54 kids diagnosed, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the rate is holding at about 2 percent of the state's population over the years, autism is getting more attention from lawmakers and officials as available resources continue to be limited.

"Kids with autism spectrum disorder are usually looked on as so much different and hard to be around," said Spectrum Principal Liz Banner. "This is a place they can come and be themselves."

She said her son, Jackson, has autism and tried attending a typical junior high school after years at Spectrum, but "it wasn't the same."

The aim for students at Spectrum Academy is independent self-regulation so that they can function successfully across a variety of settings, according to Spectrum's website.

"The need is endless," Schmutz said, adding that she's come across so many other families who struggle through the learning process with their autistic children. The family had to stop applied behavior analysis therapy because of financial constraints, and aside from Spectrum, she said, there aren't many options for continuous education in a specialized setting.

A general belief about autism spectrum disorders, Schmutz said, is that affected children lose their ability to continue to learn new things after about age 8. She said she believes Dallin can do better.

"To know him is to know how intelligent he is," Schmutz said. "He will continue to learn and grow if he is provided the opportunity to do so."

She trusts Spectrum because she said its administrators are "passionate" about what they do, with a goal to help individuals and families surpass the limitations of the disorder.

"We've got things to look forward to," Schmutz said, adding that the demands on parents of children with special needs are lifelong and she wants to see her son succeed at life.

Spectrum, which gets the same money that is doled to school districts throughout the state for the education and training of children with special needs, would like to expand to more locations and enroll even more students who have autism, but will do so "responsibly," said Jamie Christenson, director of schools for the local charter.

She said she knows of many families who would commute to the two Spectrum schools, "but we're just full."

Spectrum, Christenson said, has been approached to open schools in other states as well, but those plans are on hold until its program is "cemented" locally, she said.

"There are only two or three schools like Spectrum Academy in the nation, so for Utah to have two options in the state is an amazing opportunity," Nelson said. "We have a substantial need for this and it's been proven that students on the autism spectrum who have access to specialized education and interventions lead more productive and fulfilling lives."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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