ASD Hope, Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by local educators, is in the process of opening Texas Autism Academy in The Woodlands by fall 2017.

Community leaders in business, politics, education and health care came together Saturday morning to learn about the new private school, which is integrated with Applied Behavior Analysis tactics, while focusing on the benefits of early intervention.

“Students with autism in our area have no comprehensive school alternatives that are actual schools,” ASD Hope, Inc. President Jane Walls said. “Eventually, these children are going to become adults, and what kind of life are they going to have and what are they going to be able to bring to their communities if they don’t get help and we don’t address these needs? We need to help them now so that they can become adults that can participate in their communities and their economy. ASD Hope—with the Texas Autism Academy—can and will fill this void.”

Here are some important takeaways from the meeting community members should know:

1. ASD Hope, Inc. was founded by educators.

President Jane Walls, Vice President Cary Mollinedo, Treasurer Shelinta Perez and Board Certified Behavior Analyst Ann Maddox are all long-time certified educators from local public school districts. The four women joined forces after witnessing an increasing need for quality, affordable educational opportunities for children and families living with autism in the area.

2. Texas Autism Academy is the first of its kind to come to Texas.
Texas Autism Academy will be a private school, which integrates Applied Behavior Analysis principles throughout its curriculum, tailored for students on all levels of the autism spectrum. The entire staff will be trained in ABA techniques and the school will also provide speech, occupational and physical therapies through a contractor to those students who need it. The school will have a projected teacher to student ratio of 2:7 as opposed to a typical classroom setting of 1:22, respectively. Perez said most families living with autism in The Woodlands area only have access to clinical settings, forcing parents to homeschool their children in addition to receiving therapy separately in a clinic. Texas Autism Academy will strive to combine all these needs under one roof.

3. The school has big plans for the future.

Texas Autism Academy plans to open next fall with 42 students ages 4-8 years old. Each year, the school will increase by one grade level, until they have students with ages ranging from 4 to 22 years old. The school will eventually offer job training and junior college classes for 18-22-year-old students. In addition, the school also plans to add mainstream and inclusion classrooms in the future.

4. The founders originally wanted to open a charter school.
ASD Hope, Inc. initially wanted to open a charter school, making it free and available to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. However, after much research, Walls said they found that opening a charter school would impose limitations on the program, including disabling it from expanding past second grade. Thus, the decision to become a private school was made, although the founders said they hope to eventually build more locations across the state, some of which could potentially be charter schools.

5. The tuition is competitive by industry standards.
ASD Hope is aiming to keep tuition for students at Texas Autism Academy between $20,000 and $22,000 per year. Perez said similar institutions around the country start at $22,000 per year for high-functioning autistic students and can cost more than $35,000 per year for low-functioning autistic students. The anticipated tuition is still significantly lower than traditional private schools, which do not include the additional therapies Texas Autism Academy students will receive, Walls said. In addition, some services may be covered by insurance, which will also help mitigate tuition costs.

6. ASD Hope needs help from the community.

There are several ways community members can help Texas Autism Academy become more than just a business plan. ASD Hope is still looking for a location in The Woodlands area that fits its needs. To begin, the organization is looking for a safe, convenient location with space for 10 classrooms, office space and a reception area. ASD Hope is also looking for more members to join its Advisory Council—specifically in the fields of real estate, human resources, banking and law. Corporate and individual sponsorships will also be available to help Texas Autism Academy get the supplies and technology they need to get started. Texas Autism Academy will begin recruiting teachers in April and will begin student enrollment in July.