Offering Individualized

Educational Programs For K-12 Students

Empowerment Zone: The Future of Children with Autism

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

AUTISM ACADEMY – When your child is enrolled in a school that caters to children with autism they are able to have the support they need to ensure success. Seamlessly overlapping responsibilities is how the Autism Academy is empowering kids to shape their own future.

Transition specialist Karen Durst targets higher functioning 11th and 12th graders for college and career preparation.

“I put things on paper and make connections, Durst explained. “But Leslie is the implementer.”

Life skills teacher Leslie Dillie works hands-on with students, helping them prepare for a life of independence.

“We’re a team,” Durst said. “And she’s amazing – I couldn’t do what she does.”


“Our on-campus life skills class offers students the necessary training to participate in the community,” Dillie said.

The program is a cutting edge empowerment zone transforming lives.

During the life skills class, students rotate through different work stations learning various office, janitorial, and cooking skills.

“The life skills students make their own paper and organic cleaning wipes,” she explained.

Instead of using harsh chemicals, class participants use apple cider vinegar, essential oil, and dish soap as ingredients for Do-It-Yourself cleaning supplies.

Students work independently, sorting through mail, removing staples, shredding, and recycling paper.

“They create office labels,” Dillie said. “They also file documents based on colors and alphabetically.”

During life skills cooking class, students grocery shop weekly, prepare hot lunches, and open, “The Grub Hub” every Friday.

Teachers purchase $5 lunches from the life skills program – profits replenish resources needed to fund the Dillie dollar treasure box.

Dillie dollars is class revenue that can be used to purchase meals at McDonald’s, DVD movies, Walmart gift cards, snacks and much more.

Life skills participants are eligible for three separate off-campus volunteer jobs where students earn experience and Dillie dollars.

The off-campus employment sites include the Community Garden, Not Your Typical Deli, and Tribal Crossfit.

“Every Wednesday the kids travel to their own organic garden,” Dillie said. “It’s in the Agritopia community of Gilbert.

The agricultural employment experience exposes teenagers to weed picking, seed planting, raking, shoveling, and various gardening techniques.

Dillie says the organic herbs will be used at Not Your Typical Deli.

“On Thursdays, selected students are transported to work at Not Your Typical Deli,” she said.

Monday morning workdays consist of vacuuming, mopping, and cleaning exercise equipment at Tribal Crossfit in Chandler.

After working at each off-campus job site, one student decided to gain some entrepreneurial experience.

Cameron, an 18-year-old student, negotiated janitorial deals in order to earn money to purchase holiday gifts.

The Autism Academy is successfully redefining what the future of children with autism looks like by empowering kids to live independently.

If this empowering program is something you want to support your child with autism, enroll your child into the Autism Academy to receive a superb education.