Starting next month, a new schooling option will be available to middle- and high school-aged students with autism in Kokomo: Options Charter School.
The school is being opened at the hands of Lisa Steward, owner of Indiana Behavior Analysis Academy, which has been offering one-on-one applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy in Kokomo to children with autism since 2015. While the therapy has produced positive outcomes for many children, Steward said there’s always been a need for more supports for older children.
“One thing I’ve heard most in the last 20 years that I’ve been working with individuals with autism is there just isn’t enough supports for kids past elementary school-age, and that has resonated. So this is important, just having this additional school and option for these kids,” Steward said.
Options Charter School will open inside of Indiana Behavior Analysis Academy, located in downtown Kokomo at 125 W. Taylor St., next month. Students will receive an accredited education, and the opportunity to earn an Indiana Department of Education diploma, for half of the day.
The other half of the day, the students will receive one-on-one ABA therapy and supports in social skills, independent living, and self-management, among others, from registered behavior technicians with program oversight from a board-certified behavior analyst.
Steward said she fully supports students with autism being successful in public schools but said there were situations in which a school specific to their needs would be more beneficial.
“We are very open to supporting kids in public schools, and we promote kids being successful in their public school and would help and collaborate with all the public schools in that area but recognize that there are times when kids might need more supports,” Steward said. “Our main goal is to have kids successful in their public schools, but if they’re just not there yet, then we want them to have a good option.”
Steward anticipates the school will serve between 30 and 35 students at a time.
The owner said she believes Options will have a big impact on students’ lives.
“As they get up into those more advanced grade levels, just the executive functioning piece makes it more challenging for the students to do well. So having a program that is individualized for them and recognizes the needs of the individual on the spectrum I think is very important,” she said. “So we are happy to be at a point where we can make that happen, and we are looking forward to starting this blended program.”
Currently, the closest school to Kokomo for students with autism is in Fishers, which is another Options location that was launched in September 2019.
With the addition of the school, Indiana Behavior Analysis Academy is expanding to a second location, the former UAW training facility on Hoffer Street, to continue to offer its current services there. In a larger building, Steward said more children will be able to be served as the center regularly operates on a waitlist. Currently, 32 students attend IBAA. In the new building, Steward estimated between 50 and 60 children ages 2 to roughly 8 years old can be served at a time.
Around five to six new therapists also will be hired.
Students who will qualify for certain for Options must have an educational diagnosis of autism, though Options will continue evaluations for families that haven’t completed that process yet. For the ABA portion, children must have a clinical diagnosis of autism. If they don’t, IBAA clinicians will work with families on diagnostic testing or referrals.