PHOENIX -- This year, dozens of junior high and high school students with autism will have a new school of their own.
Pieceful Solutions, Arizona's first and fastest-growing K-12 school for children with autism spectrum disorders, is opening its newest campus on Higley and Ray roads in Gilbert, Ariz.
The first day of classes is Wednesday, July 22, and Ashley Nicoll is just as excited as her son, Timber, is to have a program designed for his special needs.
Up until last year, Timber attended a public school, but Nicoll said it was not working for him.
"They had great teachers in the public school, and they tried so hard and did so much, but they aren't trained to help him," she said.
Timber was 9 when he was finally diagnosed with high-functioning autism, but Nicoll said she already knew by then something was different about her son.
"He would tell me, 'I don't understand why I can't make friends with the kids at school,' and it's heartbreaking," she said.
She enrolled him in Pieceful Solutions program last year at its Chandler location.
"It was really incredible," she stated. "The difference in the size of classroom (and) the teachers and the staff have tremendous training."
She especially liked that each classroom had no more than 20 students and four teachers to help divide and focus on the students' individual needs.
At the new Gilbert campus, Pieceful Solutions founder Kami Cothrun said that class size is capped at 14.
"It keeps the noise and the chaos to a minimum, and we have one certified special education teacher with up to four assistants, depending on the need in each class," she explained.
Inside the new school, several rooms look more like home, only with more space for students to work. One room has a perfectly made bed with dresser drawers where, a tour guide explained, students will learn how to make their bed, fold their clothes and prepare for the beginning of their day.
The next room has a washer and dryer, as well as a "To Do" list mapping out responsibilities.
"Their needs are very different from elementary students," explained Cothrun. "We are teaching them life skills that are crucial...We have many, many students who will be college bound."
They will do that she said, "as they learn social, self-advocacy and study skills to prepare them for college."
"This campus is 30 minutes each way from our home," Nicoll explained. "I would drive twice that or more, because it has really been a miracle in our lives."
The Gilbert Pieceful Solutions campus will open its doors to 80 students. As of July 16, there were still seats available for more students.