Special kids require special schooling, and that’s what Tyler Anaya is proposing for Kent County.
Anaya is president of the board and a founding member of the Central Delaware School of Arts for the Exceptional for children on the autism spectrum.
The school initially will serve fourth-graders through 21-year-olds, she said.
It will include typical educational and inclusion programs for children with high-functioning autism, learning disabilities and other disorders that can affect their ability to interact well with others.
Anaya has reason to want the school: her son, Caiden Stevens, has Asperger’s syndrome. Children with this mild form of autism can exhibit sometimes obsessive interests in things but are hampered by a lack of social skills. They may have a difficult time
A learning experience
Although his teachers noticed Caiden had trouble as early as kindergarten, it wasn’t until he was 8 years old that a diagnosis was made, Anaya said.
“From the get-go, we knew something was wrong, there were some pretty obvious signs,” she said.
Holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Ayana understood the ramifications of Asperger’s but still had to fight for years to have the educational system recognize her son’s situation.
“What ended up happening was that the school district would say ‘he’s too high functioning for special programs, we don’t provide any accommodations for that,’” she said. “We were told to wait until he failed, but that was not acceptable.”
While working on her master’s degree in human services administration, Anaya did a four-month internship with Autism Delaware.
“That’s where it started coming together,” she said.
“I thought, ‘What if we had a school in Delaware that allowed for individualized education, giving the same educational opportunities as every other child?’” she said.
Anaya created the CDSEA’s executive board three years ago, intending to form the school as a nonprofit. That status was approved in 2016.
But it takes money to start such an ambitious enterprise. So far two fundraisers have collected about $3,000; despite that relatively low number, the experience has allowed the board to make new contacts and new inroads into funding opportunities.
“It’s a little bit here, a little bit there,” she said. “We’re now working with OnPoint Legacy to help us move in the right direction.”
The Wilmington-based OnPoint Legacy will help create the foundation for the school. OnPoint provides business services to schools, including helping fledgling institutions raise capital.
Company managing partner Gary Fredericks said the goal is to craft a strategic plan to bring in supporters, including hospitals, psychiatric facilities and even banks and insurance companies.
“What we’re trying to do is create a hybrid, a school that’s all-encompassing in the arts with an academic program,” he said.
Their financial and in-kind support is designed to help reduce tuition costs, Fredericks said. The curriculum will be modeled on institutions such as the Southern Delaware School of the Arts in Selbyville and the Arizona Autism Charter School in Phoenix.
“When we get all the pieces together, I think it will be the first school in the country to do that,” he said.
Fredericks hopes Gov. John Carney will support the idea.
“We’d like him to be the ringmaster, as it were, to get support from other entities. It’s a very ambitious plan and any support or help we can get will make it easier,” Fredericks said.
Anaya said the academy will operate 12 months a year so lessons won’t be forgotten over a summer vacation. Up to 60 percent of the pupils will be on the autism spectrum with the remainder traditionally-developing students.
“Kids with autism need to have peers and role models so they know what socially appropriate looks like,” she said. “Kids on the autism spectrum have some pretty overwhelming sensory needs. It affects them all in different ways, and problems can be magnified. They need to be desensitized so they can handle it better. They’ll be able to say ‘I don’t like this’ instead of having a meltdown. Kids can get so overwhelmed they act it out,” she said. “The older they get, the less it’s acceptable by society.”
Attending CDSEA will be a different kind of education, Anaya said.
The school will admit any child on the autism spectrum or on a case-by-case basis. There will be special education classes for those who need closer attention with a goal of eventual integration into larger classes.
Anaya said class size should not exceed 15 students.
Anaya wants to open the school in a rented or leased building by the fall of 2018 and build a new building by 2023. They plan to expand later to serve kindergarteners through third-graders.
Members of the board of directors include registered nurse Peggy Dill, Marcus Henry, founder of the Brandywine Center for Autism, Dr. Anand Gundakaram, a pediatric neurologist at CNMRI in Dover and Michael Brown, a certified instructional paraeducator.
More information: see cdsae.com.