A unique organization in Savannah, Georgia, the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism offers preschool for all young children, including children with autism and an accredited, ABA-based year-round day school for autistic children, teens and young adults. Our academies are innovative, evidence-based educational environments where every child is valued and loved. Additionally, our advocacy team serves families impacted by special needs and self-advocates throughout southeast Georgia.
WHAT WE DO
1 in 58 children in Georgia will be diagnosed with autism (CDC, 2018). The Matthew Reardon Center for Autism is the only organization in southeast Georgia that operates an accredited, year-round day school for students with autism and one of only a handful of such programs in the entire state. Advance Academy students experience a communication-based, multi-therapeutic (speech, physical, occupational and music therapies) education in academics, social and life skills, and behavior self-management using evidence-based ABA methodology. Previously accredited by the GA Accreditation Commission for ages 5-18 years old, Advance Academy accreditation was recently modified to encompass students through age 21. During those additional three years, the primary focus will shift to GED preparation and development of appropriate workplace social skills.
MRCA also provides assistance to children and families affected by autism and other developmental disorders who are not enrolled in Advance Academy. Our Outreach and Advocacy programs reach into all of southeast Georgia. It is impossible to clearly define our sphere of influence but, since 2008 alone, MRCA has directly impacted more than 1,000 families in 39+ Georgia counties and the South Carolina Low-Country and has provided autism-related instruction and training to more than 4,800 family members, caregivers, educators, therapists, other professionals and individuals on the spectrum.
In August 2019, MRCA will establish the Early Learning Academy for children ages 18 months to 5 years. The Early Learning Academy (ELA) provides an inclusion preschool setting where children with developmental delays learn alongside typically developing children through teacher-guided play and engagement.
We continue to pursue innovative partnerships that will meet the growing educational needs of the autism population in our community.
MRCA is funded through private donations, corporate and foundation grants, program fees (tuition) and the Georgia Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). MRCA is an affiliate of the Apogee GA Tax Scholarship Program and a provider for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program, aka SB10. Our board is determined that no child should be denied admission due to a family’s financial position; therefore, needs-based tuition assistance is also provided through operational funds.
Advance Academy (AA) is southeast Georgia’s only accredited year-round day school for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We use a communication-based, multi-therapeutic approach to education in academics, behavior self-management, and social and life skills grounded in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methodology. Additionally, every student receives speech and communication, occupational, physical and music therapies as part of their regular curriculum.
Ours is a school setting where students can feel safe from bullying and other social ostracism while receiving the individual attention they need to learn and flourish. We maintain student:teacher ratios of 2:1 for elementary students and 3:1 for middle and upper school students. Enrollment as of August 2019, will be 33 students, up from 12 students in 2015.
Annual tuition is $14,000; during 2018-2019, annual per-student expense was approximately $26,700. Advance Academy is a provider for the GA Special Needs Scholarship program (SB10) and a participant in the GA Tax Credit Program. Needs-based tuition assistance is also provided through operational funds. MRCA’s Board of Directors is committed that no child will be excluded from enrollment based on a family’s economic position.
THE MATTHEW REARDON EARLY LEARNING ACADEMY
At the Early Learning Academy, we believe that a child’s play is his work and that children learn best when having fun! Learning is guided by experienced teachers using incidental teaching in defined activity centers, providing hands-on opportunities for art, science and sensory play, books, puzzles, math, and literacy materials. We foster a language-enriched environment that encourages social interaction, creativity, motor development, and exploratory learning.
Our program is designed to foster educational and emotional development for children ranging from toddlers (18 months) through pre-kindergarten (48-60 months). The Early Learning Academy provides a superior learning environment for all children, while also welcoming children with learning differences and delays (such as autism). We provide supports for every child through low student to teacher ratios, enhanced classroom staff training and needed therapeutic interventions within the classroom setting. Research has demonstrated that all children benefit in an inclusive environment where differences are valued and celebrated.
Our immediate goal for Advocacy, which is well underway, is to create and coordinate a centralized information network for all regional services related to ASD and other developmental disabilities. Advocacy is also taking the lead in working to identify and procure support services, to advise families and self-advocates of their legal rights, to instruct and guide families/individuals in the strategies of self-advocacy, IEP/BIP’s, etc., and to build and expand trusted support with our public school systems and other support agencies, both public and private.
MRCA continues to respond to requests from other schools, and public school systems, for BCBA services to help meet the needs of students in those schools. Services include observation, evaluation, development of IEP/BIP’s and oversight of IEP/BIP implementation and teacher training in ABA methodology.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
MRCA’s Board of Directors is dedicated to promoting the goals of the organization through financial support and strong leadership in the community and is determined to position MRCA to be an integral part of the solution to the growing needs of our autism community, both current and future.
Matthew Reardon is the youngest son of our founder, Kim Reardon. In 1994 when he was in kindergarten, he contracted viral encephalitis. At the time, Savannah did not have the facilities to treat a child as seriously ill as he was. He was transported by air ambulance to University of Miami’s Children’s Hospital where he spent about 6 weeks. The illness left Matthew with profound epilepsy. Together with their friends, Matthew’s family donated money to Memorial Health University Medical Center to fund an epilepsy unit, and years later when his grandfather died, an endowment was established for the creation of the Backus Children’s Hospital at MMC. As the years progressed, Matthew was plagued with daily grand mal seizures which eventually affected the speech center of his brain. Now 28 years old, Matthew lives with his mother in Decatur, GA, is non-verbal and continues to struggle with regular and severe seizures.
As Matthew’s immediate medical crisis faded, the realities of obtaining the continuing supports he required became the focus of the Reardon family. Kim’s path of seeking out medical and educational help for Matthew led her to Kennedy-Krieger at Johns Hopkins and then to the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta. She envisioned something similar in Savannah. A summer program began in the late ‘90s as a partnership with the Savannah-Chatham Public School System. The Matthew Reardon Center incorporated in 2000 and received its 501(c)3 status from the IRS in February 2001. That year, we also established our year-round day school, Advance Academy, for students with developmental disabilities, using a communication-based, multi-therapeutic approach to education. In 2004, the Center hired a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) who incorporated the applied behavior analysis (ABA) methodology and from that point forward, 90%+ of our applications to the school program were for children and youth diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In 2008, we modified our corporate name to reflect our focus on autism. The education program is highly structured and hosts a very small teacher-student ratio.