05/11/11 — Wayne County gets school for students with Asperger's

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Wayne County gets school for students with Asperger's

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 11, 2011 2:22 PM

Wayne County will become the first area in the nation to have a school specifically for children with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, says Nancy Black, founder and executive director of The Asperger Connection School.

Ms. Black has done her research, having firsthand knowledge of Asperger's, both as a mother and advocate of exceptional children's programs in schools.

In 2009, she founded "Conversations" in Goldsboro, a social skills class for teens with high-functioning autism. The group meets for an hour of focused social skill training and an hour of therapeutic horseback riding.

But since November, she has devoted her efforts to creating the first of several schools designed to help families in the position she once found herself.

"I have been advocating for children with Asperger's in this county and three other counties for 10 years," she said. "I participated in those meetings, trying to fine tune the IEP (individual education plan for exceptional children)."

Having her dream for a specialized school come to fruition in Wayne County is exciting, but will not stop here.

"This is the only one in the country, the first of many we plan to have -- in Wilson in 2012, Raleigh in 2013, Charlotte, 2014 and then we're going outside of the state," she said. "It's a pretty aggressive plan but there's such a need."

The non-profit Asperger Connection School is a "family-driven effort," she said, and will serve the surrounding five counties.

"We already have children coming from Smithfield, Lenoir County, Wilson and of course, Wayne," she said.

The school will open Aug. 15 with 40 students. It will be a blend of classrooms, from K-2, grades 3-5, 6-8 and 9-10.

"We'll have K through 10th grade for the first two years and then 11th and 12th grades after we receive our certification," Ms. Black explained.

There will be 10 students in each of the four classrooms, with a ratio of five students per teacher, she said.

Karin O'Donnell, a veteran educator at Southern Wayne High School who will retire from the public school system this summer, has been named principal for the new school.

At the outset, the school will be located in Pikeville, at St. Joseph's United Methodist Church. Its front yard, she said, borders a city park, ideal for the therapeutic horseback riding program the school will also implement.

"We have a gentleman in the community who wants to build us a school in two years," Ms. Black also said.

The only criteria for applicants, she said, is that students must have a medical diagnosis of autism/ Asperger's Syndrome.

"The school is specifically focused on needs of that student population's learning styles," she explained.

In addition to providing digital-based technologies -- "learning off iPads" is one example she mentioned -- the school will be designed to foster an environment that will encourage social interaction and provide an organizational model to maximize learning, as well as encourage parent communication and involvement.

Ms. Black paid a visit to the school board Monday night, officially announcing the introduction of the new school in the fall.

"I have already spoken with the EC (exceptional children's) department and will be partnering with Wayne County Public Schools," she said. "We're very excited about our partnership with the school system."

While it will be limited to serve only those from the highest end of the autism spectrum, Ms. Black said it is still an illustrious group, as evidenced by many high-profile success stories of others with Asperger's.

"Is one of our children coming up going to be the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Thomas Edison, Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci?" she asked.

Applications are currently being accepted for the school, and an open house for the public is being planned for later this summer.

For more information, visit the website, theasperger connectionschool.com.