About Jacksonville School for Autism
At Jacksonville School for Autism, we believe every student should have the opportunity for a happy and safe experience navigating through educational and interpersonal growth.
For us, this is personal. Founded by a mother who navigated her own son’s autism diagnosis, our school is all about commitment to your child. We deliver leading-edge education and create a purpose-driven opportunity for your child’s future.
JSA is a not-for-profit, private school established in 2005 as a full-service k-12 educational center for students and young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We are dedicated to helping students build a foundation for academic and social success through individual learning assessments, a low teacher-to-student ratio, and a team of supportive staff who know just how to “click” with our student family. We also expect involvement from the families of our students, knowing that by teaming up, we can prepare students for the demands of life and become productive members of society.
Jacksonville School for Autism (JSA) is dedicated to helping individuals with autism and their families by tapping into all available resources to provide “outside of the desk” thinking. With a focus on whole child development and individualized programs that encourage both family and community involvement, JSA is able to nurture each student to reach his/her full potential. Not just a place for learning, JSA creates an environment where relationships grow and lives are changed.
Jacksonville School for Autism (JSA) is the realized dream of Mark and Michelle Dunham and the Schuldt family. In April of 2005, Michelle met with a small group of parents to initiate discussions about starting a school for children with autism. In August of that year, Michelle and her husband Mark, along with another dedicated family, started JSA. Since opening our doors, JSA has been developed by the joint efforts of a diverse group of families and professionals who are able to network with one another to develop programs that directly support our children’s unique learning needs. JSA operates under an “Integrative Model” and is open to any student on the autism spectrum, from diagnoses to young adults. JSA has a variety of classrooms to meet the needs of individual students. These varied programs allow for the successful development of students and ensures a comfortable transition from our new learners to advanced learners.
In March of 2013, JSA relocated our school and clinic to the more expansive Cypress Green location. This new location provided JSA a safe campus environment centrally located off Baymeadows Road. This larger campus located on 3 acres with 22,000 sq. feet of space has afforded JSA the ability to grow core academic programs, increase student enrollment and provide community/outreach/educational symposiums.
The school has seen tremendous growth. While the number of enrolled students, teachers, staff and therapists has grown, so has the scope of services offered to families impacted by autism.
About the Executive Director
Michelle Dunham and her husband, Mark, are the founding parents of Jacksonville School for Autism (JSA). Michelle developed the model for JSA to give her son, Nicholas, the best opportunity to learn. After experiencing educational programs through both the private and public sector, Michelle wanted to combine aspects of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, speech and language therapy, motor skills training, sensory integration therapy, and play and socialization with peers.
As a Florida native, Michelle received a B.S. degree in Finance from the University of Florida. She began her career with NationsBank/Bank of America as a sales analyst and then became a Commercial Banking Vice-President. During her tenure in the banking industry, Michelle was appointed to Public Relations V.P. where she began her involvement with community-based charities.
Michelle left banking to start a career with Johnson & Johnson in 1992 as an office-based sales representative with Janssen Pharmaceutical, Inc. In a career that spans 13 years, she held many positions in CNS Sales Management and National Sales Operations. Early in her career, she was exposed to adults and children with special needs through one of her positions as a CNS sales representative selling medications to physicians treating patients with various mental and developmental disabilities like autism. Her personal fight with autism would come years later with the diagnosis of her son in February of 2000.
After their son’s diagnosis, the Dunham family began their fight for services; at that time autism only affected 1 in 250 children. As they hit roadblocks, they realized their fight needed to be bigger; more impactful. So, in April of 2005, Michelle met with a small group of parents to initiate discussions about starting a school for children with autism. In August of that year, Michelle and her husband Mark, along with another dedicated family, started JSA. In her role as Founder and Executive Director, she is responsible for financial oversight, strategic marketing and fundraising, and overall organization management. Michelle has over 25 years of fundraising experience through her volunteer efforts with The Junior League, The American Cancer Society, and various board positions.
A Message from the Executive Director
Autism has led my family and I on a winding journey. It began with a diagnosis in 2000 and then catapulted into creating a unique program to help our own son, Nick. As Nick has grown from a very active boy into a handsome young man, the same can be said of our school. It is surreal to think that JSA started with two students, two families and one committed teacher, Mrs. Irene Batario. Today, we have a thriving school where every day more than 100 students, teachers and augmentative program instructors come together with a common purpose.
Since opening our doors back in August of 2005, JSA has been developed by the joint efforts of a diverse group of families and professionals who are able to network with one another to develop programs that directly support our students’ unique learning needs. JSA operates under an “Integrative Model” and is open to any individual on the autism spectrum. JSA has a variety of classrooms to meet the needs of individual students. These varied programs allow for the successful development of students and ensures a comfortable transition from our new learners to advances learners to young adults transitioning into the work force.
Our mission at JSA is to provide every student with a positive learning experience in a safe and comfortable environment. Each of our programs emphasize whole child development (behavioral, academic, social, and physical growth). While our goals and programs may be very different for our individual students, our solidarity remains strong in our resolve as “parents and teachers in partnership” to help all our students reach their potential.
I am so grateful for the opportunity the school has provided in bringing together so many students and their families along with the committed teachers and staff. At JSA, we believe that we have so much hope for what lies ahead for our children and students.
One of my favorite small books is titled “When the Last Acorn is found” by Deborah Latzke. I read this book about 15 years ago, and have always remembered the story about how a small and insignificant acorn can grow into such a beautiful and strong oak tree. The thought is thatwithout exception, we each can make a difference. In learning to make positive choices that are wise and loving, we create positive changes that are powerful and lasting. The impact of those choices and changes is felt, not only in our own lives, but within our families, our communities and the world in which we live.
In closing, here’s to having an acorn day EVERY DAY here at JSA… a place where relationships are formed and lives are truly changed.
Founder & Executive Director