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New school in session for students with Autism

A new private day school for students with autism spectrum disorder opens for the first time Wednesday. It’s called ACCESS Academy, which stands for Assuming Competence Can Ensure Student Success.

The school’s teaching approach is the first of its kind, not just in Evansville, but also the Midwest.

When music therapist Casey DePriest discovered how great the need was for local families of kids and teens with autism, she developed a strategic plan that included a non-profit, a day-school and an after-school program.

But she just didn’t plan on it coming together so soon. 

“Once we started the non-profit and really started spending time working with these kids, it was so evident they needed it now," DePriest said. "So we have really pushed ahead to get this school up and running, really to be honest, ahead of funding."

The school opens its doors tomorrow for students with severe autism spectrum disorder who had been previously placed in special education classes at traditional schools.

ACCESS Academy believes these students are capable of learning general education material, but they lack the body function to control their movement or sounds.

“To be trapped in this body is very oppressive...when I know can learn and I am understand these things but I don't have a way to tell anybody else that I can do these things," DePriest said.

DePriest modeled the school after a similar one, called ACT School in Phoenix, Az., that receives funding from district public schools.

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation spokeswoman Marsha Jackson says the EVSC does not recognize this method, which uses supported typing, because it is “required to provide evidence-based practices for all students in special education classes.”

But DePriest will not wait for funding to appear.

She said the students registered for class tomorrow are eager to  “use their voices and be active members of the community.”

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