Autism: Rooms to Grow

It will require patience and perseverance to hit upon the winner, but the right school for your child is out there

Finding the right school for your child is all about the fit. The same special-education program that works well for a student with moderate autism may be off the mark for another child on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. A charter school hoping to mainstream your child won’t be the best solution for a student who shuts down in a room with more than four people. A district will sometimes pay to enroll a child at a contracted nonpublic school (NPS) if its own programs fall short. There are also private institutions that only accept tuition out of pocket. Some of these schools specialize in Asperger’s syndrome or severe autism. Larger enterprises, like the Help Group, run several schools on a single campus, each oriented to a different point on the spectrum. Open the facing page for an expansive, but by no means exhaustive, list of such schools in L.A. Always request a class visit to make sure the program can deliver the education and support it promises.

Private & Nonpublic
Academy for the Advancement of Children with Autism
loc-north (Private & NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 15 Tuition: $30,000 Student-teacher ratio: 1:1 Students with ASD: 100% The approach: The academy includes a K-2 program that integrates instruction, speech and language therapy, and behavior modification. Additional services range from parent training to life skills education. AACA shares its location with James Jordan Middle School, a mainstream charter, so its students can engage with neurotypical peers. » 20040 Parthenia St., Northridge, 818-882-0200.

Almansor Center Autism Spectrum Disorders Program
loc-east (NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 155 Student-teacher ratio: 12:1 Students with ASD: 26% The approach: The Almansor Center at the Redesign of Learning has served special-needs students since 1974, when it opened in Alhambra. Now based in South Pasadena, the school launched a specialized autism program a couple of years ago that prides itself on flexibility with students. It has grown to fill four classrooms and may expand further. » 1955 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, 323-257-3006.

Baron School for Exceptional Children
loc-west (Private & NPS) Grades: Ages 3 to 22 Enrollment: 85 Tuition: $24,000 Student-teacher ratio: 3:1 Students with ASD: 70% The approach: Founded in 1908 as the Jewish Orphan’s Home of Southern California and located on the 18-acre, parklike campus of the Vista Del Mar education and social services center, Baron offers an intervention program and classes for children with moderate-to-severe autism and access to a therapy pool and athletic fields. » 3200 Motor Ave., West L.A., 310-836-1223, ext. 571

Brill School of Autism at Tobinworld
loc-north (NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 100 (300 at Tobinworld) Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 Students with ASD: 100% The approach: In 1977, Judy Weber founded this center for education, behavior modification, and work skills training (an on-site Baskin-Robbins provides a vocational backdrop) in response to the needs of her severely autistic son, Tobin. The Brill School expands students’ capabilities through individual instruction and group reinforcement. » 920 E. Broadway St., Glendale, 818-247-7474.

Carousel School
loc-south (NPS) Grades: Preschool-12 Enrollment: 88 Student-teacher ratio: 6:1 Students with ASD: 75% The approach: Carousel recently remodeled and expanded its LAX-area facilities, which serve individuals with autism and other special needs from preschool to age 65. Students ages 3 to 22 can participate in an annual winter performance (last year’s had a 1970s theme) as well as a prom night at a nearby auditorium. » 7899 La Tijera Blvd., L.A., 310-645-9222.

Center for Learning Unlimited
loc-south (Private & NPS) Grades: 3-12 Enrollment: 24 Tuition: $35,000 Student-teacher ratio: 10:1 Students with ASD: 25% The approach: Community involvement is one highlight of this school, located in the Torrance Towne Center. Students participate in recycling and local Adopt-a-Family holiday programs as well as collect donations for UNICEF at Halloween. » 2785 Pacific Coast Hwy., Torrance, 310-997-1900.

Cheerful Helpers Child and Family Study Center
loc-east (Private & NPS) Grades: Preschool-K Enrollment: 16 Tuitiloc-easton: $28,000 Student-teacher ratio: 2:1 Students with ASD: 75% The approach: Moms and dads are hands-on in this relationship-based program. All parents participate in family therapy as well as a weekly parents’ group that addresses the shared struggle of raising a child with autism. » 3300 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, 213-387-7252.

Dubnoff Center for Child Development
loc-north (NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 95 Student-teacher ratio: 6:1 Students with ASD: 10% The approach: In 1948, Belle Dubnoff started teaching three “unteachable” kids in her living room, and in 1977, the center opened a residential group home for boys. Today the school features colorful murals on its walls and offers field trips, community walks, and dances. » 10526 Dubnoff Way, North Hollywood, 818-755-4950.

ECF Kayne Eras Center
loc-west (Private & NPS)  Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 210 Tuition: $25,000 Student-teacher ratio: 5:1 Students with ASD: 10% The approach: In the 1970s, Barbara Cull became frustrated by the inability of the public school system to educate her special-needs child, so she launched an alternative. Since then her therapeutic school has merged with the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, which provides developmental disability support from early intervention to postgraduation jobs training. » 5350 Machado Rd., Culver City, 310-737-9393.

Elliott Institute
loc-north (NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 20 Student-teacher ratio: 2:1 Students with ASD: 100% The approach: Headed by Dr. Alicia Elliott, a veteran speech and language pathologist and autism expert, the institute encompasses a speech clinic and a program to help high-functioning ASD kids better process information. » 2506 Foothill Blvd., La Crescenta, 818-236-3603.

Five Acres School
loc-east (Private & NPS) Grades: K-10 Enrollment: 70 Tuition: $25,500 Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 Students with ASD: 20% The approach: Founded as the Boys & Girls Aid Society in 1888, Five Acres runs a residential treatment center and a therapeutic school on a campus designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt, with a playground, basketball courts, a swimming pool, and a 6,000-volume library. » 760 W. Mountain View St., Altadena, 626-798-6793, ext. 2315.

Frostig Center
loc-east (Private & NPS) Grades: 1-12 Enrollment: 87 ?Tuition: $26,000 Student-teacher ratio: 6:1 Students with ASD: 20% The approach: This center for students with language processing difficulties has a vibrant arts program. Last year the drama department staged Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Clue at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, and the film class wrote and produced a Twilight Zone episode. » 971 N. Altadena Dr., Pasadena, 626-791-1255.

The Help Group/Bridgeport School
loc-north (Private & NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 255 Tuition: $27,200 Student-teacher ratio: 6:1 Students with ASD: 70% The approach: While the Help Group also serves children with a variety of special needs, it is currently the largest nonpublic provider of autism education in the country, with campuses in Sherman Oaks and Culver City (see below). Bridgeport School serves children with mild cognitive delays and social communication and/or language deficits. The Bridgeport Transition Program prepares students ages 18 to 22 for young adulthood by fostering vocational and independent-living skills. » 13130 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 877-943-5747.

The Help Group/Sunrise School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities
loc-north (Private & NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 135 Tuition: $27,200 Student-teacher ratio: 10:1 Students with ASD: 80% The approach: Sunrise School stresses communication and motor skills, behavior modification, and preparation for adaptive and independent living. » 13130 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 877- 943-5747.

The Help Group/Village Glen School
loc-north loc-west (Private & NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 536 Tuition: $27,200 Student-teacher ratio: 6:1 Students with ASD: 80% The approach: Village Glen School educates students with Asperger’s, high-functioning autism, and nonverbal learning disabilities. Village Glen High offers a college preparatory curriculum, with more than 90 percent of students going on to the next level of education. » 13130 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 4160 Grand View Blvd., Culver City; 877-943-5747.

The Help Group/Young Learners Preschool for Autism
loc-north loc-west  (Private & NPS) Grades: Preschool Enrollment: 40 Tuition: $32,200 Student-teacher ratio: 3:1 Students with ASD: 90% The approach: Young Learners focuses on early intervention. » 13130 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 4160 Grand View Blvd., Culver City; 877- 943-5747.

LeRoy Haynes Center’s School for Autism
loc-east (NPS) Grades: K-12 Enrollment: 33 Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 Students with ASD: 95% The approach: Four years ago the residential LeRoy Haynes Center converted a Spanish-style home on its campus into a school for autism. Students enjoy a vocational cooking class, tend an herb garden, and ride horses nearby. » 233 W. Baseline Rd., La Verne, 909-593-2581, ext. 277.

SmartStart Developmental Learning Center
loc-west (Private & NPS)  Grades: Preschool-K Enrollment: 68 Tuition: $33,600 Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 (preschool); 5:1 (kindergarten) Students with ASD: 25% The approach: SmartStart is also a certified DIR/floortime program, which emphasizes development through relationship building and shared interests as opposed to behavior modification through the granting and withholding of rewards. Floortime is also central to SmartStart’s early intervention program. » 2505 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-452-5437.

Spectrum Program at New Roads School
loc-west (Private)  Grades: 6-12 Enrollment: 20 (640 at New Roads) Tuition: $28,050 Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 Students with ASD: 3% The approach: Unlike many progressive private schools, New Roads School’s commitment to diversity extends to kids with an ASD. Spectrum students attend New Roads classes but also pursue a daily social skills curriculum that encourages self-expression through drama, film, and radio. » 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-5582.

Speech and Language Development Center
loc-south (NPS) Grades: Preschool-12 Enrollment: 325 Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 Students with ASD: 75% The approach: Serving Orange, L.A., Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, the 15-acre facility has three playgrounds and a separate outdoor courtyard for the upper classes. Students participate in lively assemblies: When X Games Women’s Moto-X gold medalist Ashley Fiolek, who is deaf, visited the SLDC campus last spring, students greeted her with posters. » 8699 Holder St., Buena Park, 714-821-3620.

Switzer Learning Center
loc-south (NPS)  Grades: 3-12 Enrollment: 88 Student-teacher ratio: 9:1 Students with ASD: 20% The approach: Switzer applies a relationship-based model it calls “REAL” (Relational, Emotional, and Affectional Learning), in which students move toward greater social integration with guidance from parents and other trusted adults. Some parents participate in a ten-month training program. After school, Switzer offers a “FunZone” therapeutic social skills program that includes art, music, dance, sports, computers, and cooking. » 2201 Amapola Ct., Torrance, 310-328-3611 or

Westview School
loc-west (Private & NPS) Grades: 6-12 Enrollment: 135 Tuition: $32,500 Student-teacher ratio: 8:1 Students with ASD: 27% The approach: Westview caters to academically capable students who have deficits in social skills. Most with an ASD here have Asperger’s syndrome. » 11801 Mis-sissippi Ave., West L.A., 310-478-5544.


Chime Charter
CHIME Charter School

loc-north  Grades: K-8 Enrollment: 650 Student-teacher ratio: 15:1 (K-3); 18:1 (4-8) Students with ASD: 5% The approach: In 1987, a group of professors at Cal State Northridge began developing a school model that would build special education into its foundation while still primarily educating neurotypical kids. The CHIME Charter School, opened in 2003, was the first to follow this inclusive blueprint, with an enrollment of at least 20% special-needs students supported by therapies and by schoolmates who gain a keener understanding of the challenges involved than at a typical elementary or middle school. CHIME’s philosophy is to embed therapeutic services for students with an ASD (such as occupational and speech therapy) in general education classes. Applications are available in January for the school’s spring lottery. » 19722 Collier St., Woodland Hills, 818-346-5100.

CHIME Preschool and Kindergarten Inclusion Program at the Child and Family Studies Center, Cal State Northridge
loc-north Grades: Preschool-K Enrollment: 12 Student-teacher ratio: 4:1 Students with ASD: 50% The approach: This lab school on the Northridge campus offers early education and therapy as well as instructional and research opportunities for CSUN students and faculty. » 18330 Halsted St., Northridge,


The Los Angeles Unified School District serves more than 9,400 students with an autism spectrum disorder through approaches that vary from inclusion to special day classes. The district’s Asperger’s program aims to integrate 10 to 12 students with an ASD into general education classrooms. Special-education teachers with experience in Asperger’s syndrome (and two to three aides) collaborate with the main teachers to provide social and language support. The following LAUSD campuses offer the program. 818-677-2922.

El Oro Elementary
loc-north » 12230 El Oro Way, Granada Hills, 818-360-2288

Encino Elementary
loc-north » 16941 Addison St., Encino, 818- 784-1762

Fleming Middle School
loc-south » 25425 Walnut St., Lomita, 310-257-4500

Gardena High School
loc-south » 1301 W. 182nd St., Gardena, 310-354-5000

Harding Elementary
loc-north » 13060 Harding St., Sylmar, 818-365-9237

Helen Bernstein High School
loc-east » 1309 N. Wilton Pl., Hollywood, 323-817-6400

John F. Kennedy High School
loc-north » 11254 Gothic Ave., Granada Hills, 818- 271-2900

Kester Elementary
loc-north » 5353 Kester Ave., Van Nuys, 818-787-6751

Lanai Road Elementary
loc-north » 4241 Lanai Rd., Encino, 818-788-1590

Le Conte Middle School
loc-east » 1316 N. Bronson Ave., Hollywood, 323-308-1700

Millikan Middle School
loc-north » 5041 Sunnyslope Ave., Sherman Oaks, 818-528-1600

Mulholland Middle School
loc-north » 17120 Vanowen St., Lake Balboa, 818-609-2500

Newcastle Elementary
loc-north » 6520 Newcastle Ave., Reseda, 818-343-8795

Reseda High School
loc-north » 18230 Kittridge St., Reseda, 818-758-3600

Robert E. Peary Middle School
loc-south » 1415 W. Gardena Blvd., Gardena, 310-225-4200

South Gate High School
loc-south » 3351 Firestone Blvd., South Gate, 323-568-5600

Stephen M. White Middle School
loc-south » 22102 S. Figueroa St., Carson, 310-783-4900

Ulysses S. Grant High School
loc-north » 13000 Oxnard St., Van Nuys, 818-756-2700

Walter Reed Middle School
loc-north » 4525 Irvine Ave., North Hollywood, 818-487-7600


Designed for early intervention, the LAUSD’S ICAP classes integrate occupational and speech therapy with TeachTown, a computer program that supports the applied behavior analysis approach to helping students with autism develop social, language, and motor skills. Teachers are hand selected based on their expertise, says LAUSD autism specialist Debbie Moss. Classes are limited to eight students, with a 2:1 student-teacher ratio. Each of the following campuses hosts a preschool class and a kindergarten/first-grade class.

Ambler Elementary
loc-south » 319 E. Sherman Dr., Carson, 310-532-4090

Lockwood Elementary
loc-east » 4345 Lockwood Ave., L.A., 323-662-2101

Melvin Avenue Elementary
loc-north » 7700 Melvin Ave., Reseda, 818-886-7171

Parthenia Street Elementary
loc-north » 16825 Napa St., North Hills, 818-891-6955

Rio Vista Elementary
loc-north » 4243 Satsuma Ave., North Hollywood, 818-761-6147

Utah Street School
loc-east » 255 Gabriel Garcia Marquez St., L.A., 323-261-1171

Illustration by Gracia LAM