'A personalized approach': New school opens in Spokane to help children with autism

<p><p>A new school in north Spokane promises the best of both worlds for children with autism.</p></p><p><p>“What we’re trying to do is create an environment for kids with autism that meets their needs and does it for free,” said Jim Matthews, board president of Ascend Academy.</p></p><p><p>It’s no surprise, then, that demand is heavy. Classes begin Jan. 4 with room for 20 children, but Matthews and his team already have received more than 50 applications.</p></p><p><p> The nonprofit is designed specifically for students with severe autism, behavioral disorders, disabilities and skill deficits.</p></p><p><p>Behavior therapists and teachers work together in a classroom setting to provide special education and behavioral therapy in one place.</p></p><p><p>The school, located at 1117 E. Westview Court, will share a building with SOAR Behavior Services, a for-profit business owned by Matthews.</p></p><p><p>Matthews envisions the school filling a gap between public and private schools.</p></p><p><p>“The public schools are fantastic at what they do, but there is a subset of kids that can benefit from a personalized approach with more supports in place,” Matthews said this week.</p></p><p><p>“A lot of the time, parents will want a one-on-one (public school) paraeducator assigned to their child, but that’s not feasible,” Matthews said. “Private schools might be more willing to provide more amenities, but they’re more expensive.”</p></p><p><p>Ascend also is intended to bridge the gap for families who otherwise might have to choose between enrolling their child in school or in therapy services.</p></p><p><p>Matthews, a school psychologist and board-certified behavioral analyst, said the school will provide applied behavioral analysis (ABA) services to students from kindergarten through fifth grade.</p></p><p><p>He said ABA therapy helps kids gain skills to lead healthy, happy lives by fostering positive behaviors and responses – such as verbal, social and cognitive skills – through positive reinforcement.</p></p><p><p>The one-on-one attention is crucial, Matthews said, because children with autism often have behaviors “that are idiosyncratic and individual to them.”</p></p><p><p>“We can monitor those little signs and can spot issues before they become bigger problems,” Matthews said.</p></p><p><p>Staff will rotate, Matthews said, but typically each child will work with only two different staffers.</p></p><p><p>The school also will be open 12 months a year – an important consideration, Matthews said, because “summer slide” is often more pronounced for children with autism.</p></p><p><p>That’s important, Matthew said, because “a lot of kids with autism have difficulty with transitions, both going into and coming out of summer.”</p></p><p><p>Matthews expects that Ascend Academy will be supported through donations from local businesses and people.</p></p><p><p>The ABA therapy provided to students is paid through the family’s insurance.</p></p><p><p>Depending on how things go next year, the facility could expand at some point. However, Matthews is uncertain whether Ascend Academy would include more K-5 children, or grow to include secondary-age students.</p></p><p><!–[photoset id=11609]–></p>