Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Coryell Autism Center?
Coryell Autism Center (CAC) is a nonpublic school for students with autism and related disabilities, ages 14 to 22.  We provide special education services to students whose level of disability is designated moderate-to-severe.  Our focus is functional academics, life skills and vocational training.  The center is located in Santa Cruz, and accepts students from districts throughout Santa Cruz and nearby counties.

What services does CAC provide?
School-Based Services: We teach IEP- and ITP-based functional life skills (academic, vocational, domestic, social, recreational, and community) that must be acquired by someone before he or she ages out of the educational system at the age of 22.  We follow current best practices, particularly those of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  We facilitate the development of self-advocacy skills in our students. We provide résumé-building opportunities and vocational training both on-site and off, both volunteer and paid, including WorkAbility. We help our students to understand time and money so that they may earn and spend with competence. We show our students how to build respectful, reciprocal relationships with the people around them.  We do not use physical restraints on our students.

Supported Living Services: We actively encourage families to begin considering independent living options for their child well before the age of 22.  Through Coryell Autism Center Supported Living Services (CAC-SLS), we provide IPP-based support and resources for our students’ families during the often-daunting processes of conservatorship, applying for Social Security benefits, acquiring and maintaining services through San Andreas Regional Center, and finding an affordable and appropriate adult living environment.  CAC-SLS is funded primarily through the Regional Center.

What about supplemental services?
Behavior Analysis:  CAC retains a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) on a consultative basis for the center.  Many CAC staff have received formal training in Behavior Analysis.  Additional hours of BCBA consultation are determined on a student-by student basis, usually during the IEP process, and arranged as part of the master contract with the student’s home district.

Speech:  CAC has a working relationship with a Speech & Language Pathologist (SLP), whose hours are determined on a student-by student basis, usually during the IEP process, and arranged as part of the master contract with the student’s home district.

Occupational Therapy: CAC does not currently have students who require the services of an Occupational Therapist (OT).  Hours would be determined on a student-by student basis, usually during the IEP process, and arranged as part of the master contract with the student’s home district.

Other services are determined on a student-by-student basis, usually during the IEP process, and arranged as part of the master contract with the student’s home district.

How is CAC different from other educational programs?
Very few special education programs are designed specifically for transitional-age individuals with autism. Many programs serve individuals to adulthood, but are not significantly adjusted for older students whose needs and abilities are often quite different from those of their younger peers. By thinking about our students in terms of where they need to be at the age of 22 and beyond, we are able to create ambitious yet reality-based programs with clear continuity from one year to the next. We are able to focus exclusively on age-appropriate academic, vocational, domestic, social and recreational activities. Additionally, we are located in a residential area just a brief walk from public transportation, multiple parks, and useful commercial districts--all of which our students are immediately immersed in. In other words, we are a part of a real adult community, and our students join that community on their first day at the center.

Why is CAC focused on transition to adulthood?
The needs of young adults with autism are radically different from the needs of children or of already-transitioned adults, and very few programs are designed with this in mind. Symptoms of autism which may have been successfully treated at an earlier age often resurface or worsen when an individual with autism reaches puberty.  Most teenagers need a network of strong supports to navigate the ups and downs of becoming an adult; many individuals with autism are unable to create such a network for themselves.  Once a student ages out of the educational system at the age of 22, publically-funded support services are dramatically reduced. In order to provide the best possible outcomes for adults with autism, it is crucial that we help them to build and participate in a network that will provide them with the highest-quality services and experiences during their transitional years and beyond.

What are some examples of the needs of individuals transitioning to adulthood?
To be treated in an age-appropriate manner. To be expected to behave in an age-appropriate manner. To have regular and useful access to their community.  To have friends and role models.  To be able to seek and receive help.  To know what to do in the event of an emergency.  To be able to say "yes" to the things they want and "no" to the things they don't want.  To experience success, and to handle failure.  To know joy, and to survive disappointment.  To communicate clearly, and to be heard and understood.  To understand that decisions they make today may have lasting effects.  To know how to find and hold a job.  To have an internalized sense of right and wrong. To take pride in personal achievement.  To know how and when to perform the tasks of daily living.  To have their own hopes and dreams, and the tools to fulfill them.

How else does CAC promote independence?
We promote independence through person-centered planning founded on the student's own strengths and preferences, as well as the needs of their family. We consider the skills our students must acquire by the age of 22 in order to access an independent lifestyle, then break down those long-term goals into annual goals and quarterly benchmarks so that we are able to formulate the current-year IEP.  An ITP (Individualized Transition Plan) is created for all students alongside their IEP beginning the year they turn 16, and includes annual goals for Training, Education, Employment and Independent Living.

We develop personalized curricula and schedules with each of our students, who are in charge of following their own schedules throughout the day. Our students are taught to perform complete and complex tasks (shopping for groceries, riding the bus, checking email, making lunch) independently, and expected to apply those skills on a regular basis in a variety of settings. They are encouraged to problem-solve novel situations and to ask for help when needed. They are permitted to move freely about campus in accordance with their schedules. They are encouraged to share and pursue their own interests, and to participate in activities with their peers. They are actively taught to generalize skills and knowledge and, ultimately, to be independent of contrived prompts and reinforcement.

Does CAC provide transportation to and from school? 
No.  Transportation needs must be worked out between families and the referring school district.

Does CAC provide partial-day or after-school programs? 
Not at this time.

Are CAC Supported Living Services available to non-CAC student? 
No.  Only individuals who are currently enrolled as CAC students are eligible for CAC-SLS.

Is CAC currently accepting new students? 
Yes!  Referrals for new students must come from the student’s home district.  Referral forms are available on our website.

Does CAC require student records before enrollment?
Data forms must be on file at CAC at the time of enrollment. The forms include: release of information, emergency contact phone numbers, medical emergency and insurance information. Student records are considered confidential. No records will be released to other professionals or agencies without written permission of the student’s parent or guardian.  The center typically also requests copies of at least the last 3 years of a student’s IEPs (including progress reports), behavior support plans and assessments.

What are CAC’s hours?
Coryell Autism Center is typically open Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  School hours are 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM.  School is in session 229 days a year.  The school calendar and daily bell schedule can be found on our website.

Can I visit CAC?
Yes!  The center hosts monthly Visitor Days which are listed on the homepage of our website.  Visitor Days include a program overview, a tour of the center, and the opportunity to meet and talk with the center’s staff and students.  Private tours are possible, but are scheduled at our discretion.  If you would like to visit CAC, please call us at 831-713-5186 or email Lisa Hyde at

What is a nonpublic school (NPS), and who pays for it?
A nonpublic school is a state-certified, publically-funded alternative to a public school.  Under PL 94-142, every child in America is entitled to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive setting that meets the child’s needs.  When a child has exceptional needs that cannot be met in a public school setting, that child may be educated in a nonpublic school at public expense.  A nonpublic school contracts with County Offices of Education (COE), Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPA) and/or referring school districts to receive public funding.  Families are not liable for the costs of educating their child at an NPS.  Cost sheets can be obtained by contacting Lisa Hyde at

What is autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that is present in early childhood and lasts throughout a person’s lifetime, though its effects may be significantly reduced over time through intensive behavioral interventions. There is no definitive cause and there is no cure.  Individuals with autism experience many challenges, particularly in the areas of social interaction and communication, and may display a range of unusual or severe behaviors.  Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because the intensity of symptoms varies widely across individuals, from those who cannot speak or require extensive supports to those who are able to live communicative, independent lives. 

What is the prevalence of autism?
In December 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that autism now reportedly affects 1 in 110 children, including 1 in 70 boys. This represents a staggering 57 percent increase from 2002 to 2006 and a 600 percent increase in just the past 20 years. Many of these children will soon be entering adulthood.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the process of using research-based behavioral principles to teach new skills and increase desirable behaviors. ABA methods break skills down into small, measurable units and use high rates of positive reinforcement. ABA is committed to objective measurement and data-driven analysis of behavior within relevant settings, like home, school, and the community.  When done correctly, ABA uses many different teaching strategies to increase and maintain desirable behaviors, teach new skills, and generalize behaviors to new environments or situations.