The doors to our brand new Sarah Dooley Center for Autism opened to begin the 2021-2022 school year. Here students have access to an environment specifically designed to promote best practices in autism education, therapy, research and care. Our beautiful space includes a library, indoor movement room health clinic, observation areas for families and partners, and new features that enhance safety and accessibility.
We designed our new Center to achieve the behavioral and communication outcomes of an elite clinic while reaching top-tier academic goals. The upgraded building will now accommodate close to 100 students at a time as we fulfill our mission of maximizing independence for the students and families we serve.
The building’s front entrance includes new grading to enable equal accessibility for all students. The space also includes transition areas with benches to serve as calming space for our students and families coming to visit.
With a two-story ceiling and abundant natural light, our welcome lobby serves as a gathering area for students and reception space for guests.
Adjacent to the Admissions Suite, a Health Suite will be located to the right of the entrance. It will conveniently serve students who require medication and routine medical attention.
The historic school auditorium has been transformed into a flexible space that can accommodate 250 people for regional conferences and events.
We will also host in-service and embedded teacher trainings to meet the growing need for teachers skilled in autism-specific teaching and communication techniques. We’ll provide this training to teachers, aides, bus drivers, parents, pediatricians, and others invested in serving the autism community.
By training these teachers and community supporters, our Center will impact the lives of thousands of children across the Commonwealth and beyond.
The Library features state-of-the-art equipment and resources specifically designed to meet students’ unique sensory needs. This special space overlooks the Welcome Lobby and features opportunities to build technology and communication skills, along with cozy seating nooks.
The classrooms will serve as a model for autism-specific classrooms. They’re designed to be replicable in public school systems within existing resources and infrastructure. Each classroom has raised ceilings to allow for more natural light and visible storage.
Accessible bathrooms and teacher workstations are adjacent to every classroom, along with dedicated observation areas for parents and research partners. The space will also host sites for music and art therapy.
With this beautiful space, we’ll be able to build stronger community partnerships with educators and school systems in Virginia. We are currently creating an autism-specific curriculum and resources to share during our in-service and embedded teacher training.
Our hope is to collaborate with the wider community to reach and serve even more students throughout the state. We know that by partnering and collaborating on best practices in autism therapy and research, we can impact thousands of young people and their families across the Commonwealth.
While our Center has been upgraded and expanded to serve more students, we’ve retained the beloved identity that families have known and loved for nearly 100 years. The Center is still located on the historic 82-acre campus of St. Joseph’s Villa.
Being at home on the campus allows our students to enjoy tree-lined pedestrian avenues, outdoor classrooms, learning gardens, a newly renovated gym, and dining facilities. These spaces are both therapeutic and enjoyable.
We are thrilled about our new home and look forward to welcoming you in for a tour.
Learn more about our Center and services by clicking below.
When we first began planning our new Sarah Dooley Center for Autism, Odell led a series of charrettes with faculty, parents, and public school partners to make sure we got