When her two year old son, Joey, was diagnosed with Autism, Shiela Perez entered a world in which she had no experience. After struggling at a local public school, they found ResponsiveEd’s Foundation School for Autism in San Antonio. When Joey started at the school he was non-verbal with very little social interaction. Now he is using words and pictures to communicate and is interacting socially with adults and some peers.
Familiarizing herself with raising an autistic child, Ms. Perez at first found herself overwhelmed. She researched both public school and private school options. Not satisfied with the choices available to her son, she even considered moving states.
“At the time we lived out in the country away from resources and had no idea what to do,” said Ms. Perez.
For his first year in school, they enrolled Joey in the local public elementary school. Joe was placed in a class with only one other student. The lack of socialization and academics concerned his mother.
“It was just not the option we were looking for. It was more babysitting than school,” she said.
She recalled how she used to sit in the school parking lot after dropping her son off and wondering how long it would be before the school called to say he was being difficult. When Joey’s case manager recommended the Foundation School for Autism, his parents jumped at the opportunity. Since coming to the Foundation School for Autism, they have stopped worrying about his program.
“It has taken a lot of the weight off of our shoulders these past few years, I don’t think I need sit in the parking lot worrying. The staff is one of a kind. Their training works, I’ve seen it work with every student. If you throw a challenge at the staff, they will meet it,” she said.
The Foundation School for Autism is a tuition-free public charter school that serves children ages 3-7. The school focuses on early intervention because research shows that if children receive early intervention before the age of six, it can change the course of their lives. Each child receives an individual education plan to develop and improve key areas such as learning readiness, independent work, and academics. Beyond the academics the school teaches students important socio-emotive skills to help children navigate social interactions that often causes difficulty in school. As the primary caregivers, the school also provides special training to parents to help them cope with their child’s behavior.
Rheatha Miller, the program supervisor at the Foundation School for Autism, believes the school provides an important service by not only educating but also helping students transition to a regular public school.
“We provide families with a tuition free, personal, educational environment that meets the communication, behavioral, and academic needs of their children. Our staff is highly qualified and knows the importance of giving our families training and support in order to improve their child’s generalization of skills into the home and community,” said Ms. Miller.
With private schools costing as much as of $1,400 a month and public schools unable to meet the needs of their child, a free charter school option like the Foundation School for Autism provides hope to many parents. After four years in the program, Joey is eight years old and finishing his last year at the school. In that time, he has grown in his ability to communicate, in his behavior and academically.
“The Foundation School gave us all the resources we needed. It has a very advanced curriculum and our son is doing things a regular kid his age is doing. Our son is actually able to succeed and learn academically. He can count and knows the alphabet even if it is not all verbal,” said Ms. Perez.