New, Large, Autism School to Open in New Jersey

A new school—-a large one (160,000 square feet)—-for autistic students is to open its doors in June in New Jersey. 80 to 90 students will start attending the Morris-Union Jointure Commission’s new Developmental Learning Center; there is room for 220 students aged 3 – 21, as noted in today’s Star-Ledger. The $41.4 million dollar project is to feature “two indoor swimming pools, an indoor track, and a Main Street where students can work as employees and act as customers at businesses such as a diner, bank and hardware store”; there will also be an area resembling a hotel lobby. Kim Coleman, Superintendant of the Morris-Union Jointure (a consortium of public school districts that also run some other centers) notes that the school’s opening is more than timely, in the wake of the CDC’s recent announcement that 1 our of 94 children in New Jersey have autism.

I have read about this school in its planning and building processes and much mention has been made of elaborate “‘jaw-dropping’” (as Cathy Douma, past president of the commission’s parent group, notes) facilities and also the traffic congestion feared by residents in the vicinity of the new school, which is on a local thoroughfare. The facilities certainly sound excellent—there are “age-appropriate wings” for the students—-but, as a parent, I would also like to know about the teaching methodologies to be used and the educational curricula; how will the students be taught to use the “bank”? Will they then be taught to go to a real bank? I am sure provision has been made for all these and hope to hear more about these—as much as about the swimming pools: A good school is built on good teaching, first of all.

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    • livsparents

      What town is this in specifically? You made you commentary on school systems in general, but how do you feel about towns and/or counties pooling their recources together. Travel time could be an issue, but I feel that is one way that districts could survive and still give good services. Otherwise, it seems that you my\ay have BOTH subpar services for the kids AND high cost for the district. Disadvantages are what if a town withing the jointure decides to ‘seceed’ from the ‘union’, especially if it’s one of the wealthier districts?

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      The school will be in Warren Township and all the townships that are part of the Morris-Union Jointure are listed at their website:

      In theory it seems like a good idea for districts to pool resources, esp. when the districts are small and have fewer resources. It seems that more than a few districts in NJ are pooling resources (as for another autism school program that opened in Bergen County in the fall, in Dumont) to put together these programs; keeping costs down is an always-mentioned factor—-I like to think that districts coming together can be a good thing, as it could also mean that the staff at such a school could be more specifically trained to teach autistic children. I am curious as to what develops.

    • Daisy

      “A good school is built on good teaching, first of all.”
      Thank you, thank you, thank you.
      -Autism Mom and Elementary Teacher

    • Club 166

      Yes, give me a one room wooden shoolhouse with a great teacher over a fancy facility with mediocre ones anyday of the week.

      That being said, it’s always nice to have nice facilities.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      I wouldn’t mind a shinier classroom myself or at least an office where there was no need to leave a very large rodent trap…….. back to the topic: I’ve read several news articles and talked to some parents about this new center and everyone talks about the building and the bank and the pools, with no word said about teacher and staff training, how behaviors will be addressed, etc.. Nice facilities definitely make a difference—paired with excellent teachers, informed supervision…….. a great combination.

    • natalia

      i wonder if those simulated “businesses” will work. some people can’t learn things properly out of context, and will surely sense that this “context” isn’t real. a main street is not quite the same environment without traffic, pedestrian passersby who are not your classmates, dogs, weather, etc.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      I am wondering about that too; I wonder if the “simulated businesses” are like the environments created in some assisted living homes for Alzheimer’s residents? It’s the sensory experience of being (for instance) in a grocery store or bank—and the people who work in it—-that can be something to deal with.

    • Zaecus

      *stare blankly*

      So the one area of education important enough to mention is making sure we teach children how to be consumers and work in customer service?

      I’ve been sitting here for five minutes trying to figure out how to write something intelligent. time to hit submit, I think. *headdesk*

    • Shae-Brie M. Dow

      My daughter attended the DLC in Union (also a part of the Morris-Union Jointure Commission) and I have nothing but great things to say about the teachers and the program.

    • Susan

      My son is a student at the DLC in New Providence and will switch to the DLC in Warren (the new school) when it opens at the end of June. He just started at the DLC in April when we moved back to NJ from California, but he had previously attended it from ages 3 – 5. He is 19 now, and we are pretty happy with the school. The DLC does a good job with vocational training and functional academics, which at my son’s age are very important. I’m going on a tour of the new school next week and I’m very interested to see it. I am interested in the pool, so my son can swim and maybe learn to race. I am excited about the gym, because I heard there’s a weight room and it’s age appropriate and good exercise. I assume the same ABA programming will be carried on there, as well as practice in the simulated community settings. I agree that then you need to practice those skills in the real world, because without generalization, they are pointless. As long as they know that once a student is proficient working in the simulated hardware store, now it is time to transfer those skills to a real hardware store – I think it can work out well. When we lived in California, my son was in a district transition type program for students 18-22, with kids with all different disabilities included. As a result, there wasn’t much knowledge of autism. So, they kept taking my son out into the community and having him work in different settings, like a real hardware store, with a lot of behavior problems. In the hardware store, all he did was sweep. In a school like the DLC the staff seem well trained and are very calm when there is a problem. In the past month he’s learned more than he did all last year.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      Susan, thanks so much for this—-really glad to hear about how your son is doing, and hope the tour proves very informative!

    • http://none Robin Schulberg

      I am looking for a teaching job in a school for autistic children in New Jersey. Please email me at with any information that you have about potential employment

    • Gilbertho Mazile

      Can someone please nfrm me as of to where might I go to obtain more information about this new school for autistic children.
      Within the next couple of hours I have to meet with a couple of board members in Hillside and my son’s social worker regarding his assignments for home work. When I brought this matter up to my son’s teacher who is surrounded by autistic children ranging in ages from 7 to probably 12 years old with diffrent capabilities of learning and grasping information …..was vague and uncooperative.
      I say all that to say; Are the teachers well trained and educated to understand the vast spectrum of autitism to educate the children? And I as a parent, what more can I do to help lighten the loads for all three parties? Parent, teacher and student.

    • Kristina Chew, PhD

      @Gilbertho Mazile,

      The school’s website is here:

      I think that the teachers at the school are trained in ABA—-there is more information on the website about specifics. You can also email me at

      kchew AT spc DOT edu