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Autism Academy works to keep its community connected


I have tears in my eyes as I sit at my computer defining “best practices” for educating children with autism online. I know we will be back together in our school buildings soon, but I am overwhelmed by the messages from concerned parents and staff. My heart is overflowing with compassion. COVID-19 has deeply impacted all of our lives.

As Valley schools adapt to online education, the experience continues to be new and different for everyone. However, the general population has no concept of what it means for students with autism and their families to go online.

At the Autism Academy, we are diligently working to devise the best possible strategies to deliver online instruction to students on various ends of the autism spectrum. Some of the challenges we are addressing:

  • How to teach basic life skills — setting a table, folding towels, making a bed — from a screen.
  • Providing non-verbal students with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, communication resources and support.
  • Training our teachers on virtual instruction: how to implement an online classroom, learn new technologies, and accommodating special needs online.

These are not easy challenges when educating students with special needs. And for parents and caregivers, the demands of having a student with behavior challenges at home is difficult.

My heart goes out to each member of our school community. We understand, and that’s why we aim to provide as much support as professionally possible during this crisis. Some of the online video content we’ve developed:

We’ve got video lessons on some of those basic life skills — measuring, setting a table, making a hot lunch — and even music classes with music teacher Joe Arick (Mr. Joe to our students).

Every day, my morning starts with prayer for our Autism Academy children, community and schools:

“God, please put a hedge of protection around our Autism Academy family, keep our children healthy and productive, both physically and academically.”

I know we’ll be back together again in our school buildings one day, but I am overwhelmed by the messages from concerned parents and staff. My heart overflows with compassion as I receive daily phone calls, text messages, and emails from our teachers and staff, begging to return to work. The children are greatly missed.

During times like these, I realize how truly blessed we are to share such an amazing connection among educators, parents and students working together at AAED. Here are just a few of the many comments from employees during this time:

  • “I already miss them so much and wish I could welcome them into the art room and let them get lost in the creative experience, if only for 30 minutes.”
  • “Praying we get back with our students as soon as possible.”
  • “Can we please have half the kids come in and keep groups to 10 and under and rotate please?”
  • “I miss my kids so much.”

The list goes on and on from teachers and paras expressing love and concern for our students. We all understand just how important a daily routine is for our student population and how they must be confused and wondering what is happening.

If it were at all safe, we would return immediately.

We will continue to pay our employees, with hope this will be over in a few weeks. We don’t want anyone to be without and we’re doing everything we can to eliminate anxiety. If your family needs anything and we can help, we will — please stay connected.

The Autism Academy has locations in Chandler, Tempe, Phoenix and Tucson. Visit our website at AAED.org and our Facebook page for ongoing information and support.

Laura Newcomb, owner of Exceptional Academic Services, created the Autism Academy for Education and Development to equip students to achieve academic, social and behavioral excellence.



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