Utah has the second highest prevalence for autism in the country. With this high rate comes a vast array of resources so those with autism and their loved ones can better understand the spectrum disorder.

Spectrum Academy opened a new high school Saturday at its Pleasant Grove campus, making it the only high school in Utah County dedicated to serving students with autism.

“To see this expand and grow and to help so many families is just so beyond exciting,” said Liz Banner, campus principal at Spectrum Academy.

Since its initial launch, Spectrum Academy has handled specifically students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Once students aged out, they were left to the districts, which weren’t as equipped to handle the needs of each student.

“There was just not the support they needed to be successful,” said Brad Nelson, director of finance and development with Spectrum Academy.

Before launching the high school in Pleasant Grove, Spectrum Academy launched a similar K-12 program at their Salt Lake City campus.

After seeing such success there, it made such sense to bring the program to Utah County.

Not only does the new high school offer traditional curriculum for students with autism, but it also offers transitional and vocational training to help its students shift from school to the working class.

“Not only can a student get a high school diploma, they can also get some job and vocational training,” Nelson said. “When they move on either to higher education or into a career, we’ve helped them do that as well.”

Nelson said he knows of only a few other campuses in the country that offer transitional and vocational training to students in such a way that Spectrum Academy does. By designating the school as a charter school, it has greater resources at less of an impact to taxpayers.

“We can work with the autism community and autism education,” Nelson said. “It’s a win-win. … We can create an environment that is customized specifically for these kids and their particular needs.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the first-ever Autos for Autism Show was also held. The car, truck and motorcycle show benefitted Spectrum Academy by raising funds for classroom programs and expanding the curriculum offered.

This year, 150 students will attend Spectrum Academy’s high school. Fifty more students will be admitted each year, until the school reaches capacity at 250 students.

Nelson said by providing high school students with a specialized education, they have better opportunities to be around their peers who understand autism and how to make others feel loved.

“We have basketball teams, cross-country teams and soccer teams. We have after-school programs,” Nelson said. “We want this to be as typical of a high school experience as possible.”

Kurt Hanson is the Breaking News and Courts reporter for the Daily Herald. He can be reached via email at khanson@heraldextra.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hansonherald.

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