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First Autistic Charter School Thriving in North Salt Lake

First Autistic Charter School Thriving in North Salt Lake

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Shelley Osterloh Reporting New research says that one out of every 133 children in Utah has a form of Autism. And now Utah has its first-ever public school specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders.

The Spectrum Academy in North Salt Lake looks like any other school, and students follow the same core curriculum, but here teachers know how to deal with the complex behaviors of children with Autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Merry Fusselman, principal, Spectrum Academy: "We have a lot of parents that come here and say 'Our child wasn't able to be in a regular classroom because they didn't know how to respond to his needs.' They would escalate all the time. But here we know how to meet those needs."

The spectrum of autism is wide, but there are four areas of deficits: social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors and unusual responses to sensory stimulation.

Many of the activities here are designed to increase their sensory stimulation. It's something they crave and will work for. So an occupational therapist uses things like nicknames.

First Autistic Charter School Thriving in North Salt Lake

Parents say the school understands some of the special needs these children have and offers small classes and individualized programs with methods that work.

April Flatten, parent and teacher: "I think in other schools they might think 'Oh, they are acting out. Maybe they are upset.' But really maybe they are having a sensory problem with the lights or, someone is making a sound that they can't filter out and then concentrate on their work."

Parents and teachers say children who have been unable to make friends find acceptance.

Kim Moody, support services specialist, Spectrum Academy: "They are liked for who they are and what their interests are and quirky little behaviors just don't bug us."

And feeling part of a group extends to parents who may feel alone in their challenges but now are part of the Spectrum Academy.

The Spectrum Academy has about 120 students from as far north as Brigham City and as far south as Lehi.

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