NEWARK -- Tammi Stone wants to see her son Michael do more on his own.
Her family is in the process of enrolling Michael, 13, in Excel Academy's new Autism Spectrum Disorders Program; they just have to wait for state scholarship money to arrive.
"The reason we're excited about this program: We really want to see Michael achieve as much independence as is possible for him," Stone said.
The program began this year and is small so far. Excel Academy Executive Director Amber Thorne-Hamilton said the new offering is geared toward helping a specific group of children who don't have a lot of other options.
Previously, the few autistic children Excel had were included in the school's regular population of emotionally disturbed students. This wasn't fitting their needs.
"The needs of each student population are different," she said.
Excel's program will have small class sizes and use Applied behavior analysis techniques that focus on positive reinforcement and discreet trial training, said Angie Moore, the program's coordinator.
It uses task analysis and visual prompts to reach the students.
"It's steps being broken down very, very small," Moore said. "If you can get a kid's attention by a prompt that's more visual, that's better than (something spoken)."
Staff is working to meet specific students' needs in the program, with classes geared toward their own learning levels. This creates many different classes serving a few students at a time.
"We want to keep that low student-staff ratio to meet the students' needs," Moore said.
The high school students also will get to be involved in Excel's vocational programs, working in the student store or in community businesses.
Tuition for the autism program can either be paid by students' home districts or though Ohio's Autism Scholarship Program. Scholarships, offered for up to $20,000 a year, rose from 70 in the 2003-04 school year to 1,000 by 2007-08.
In order to qualify for the scholarship, Stone has been working with Newark City Schools to develop an Individualized Education Plan for Michael, who she's homeschooled for the last two years. She hopes to have him enrolled and attending Excel soon.
"He's a little anxious because he knows he's going to school, but he doesn't know what it's going to be like," she said.
Once Michael goes to school for a few days, Stone is confident he will adapt and have a positive experience.
Seth Roy can be reached at (740) 328-8547 email@example.com.