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A spectrum of learning

Therapeutic day school for students with autism, learning disorders starts Sept. 9

DIXON – Extra early mornings and hours of rides to special schools may be over for students with autism and other behavioral and learning disorders.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) of Illinois will open its CDH Educational Center, a therapeutic day school, on Sept. 9 at the former Lincoln School in Dixon.

Karen Harper, founder and chief behavior analyst of ABA of Illinois, and a Rock Falls native, sought to establish a school close to the Sauk Valley, which will be the first of its kind. It is named for Harper’s parents, Charles and Doris, who were longtime local educators.

Harper also runs Holtz Educational Center, which is a similar school in suburban Darien, and her company has organizations for adults in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

“We really wanted to offer something to the community so that they can stay local, get the support that they need, and get them the skills that they need to get them back to their home schools,” she said.

Parents and prospective students got a look at CDH’s organization and facilities during an open house Friday and Saturday. They toured its six classrooms and met with paraprofessional aides who will work one-on-one with students. Each classroom will have up to 10 students with an age range of 4 years.

Billie Nicklaus is one of about 60 aides who will take what teachers are saying and tailor lessons to students’ individual understandings. She had worked at Sterling Public Schools before coming to CDH, and is glad to be a part of a dedicated school for such students.

“We have tools that are specially equipped for our students,” she said. “They give them more of an opportunity to be productive members of society, and helping them along for more important things in life.

“It’s a need for these kids to have a place to feel more comfortable, safe and able to not be judged because other students are not in this building.”

Students with autism sometimes learn in different ways that may not be asked of them in a traditional school setting, or do well in loud and crowded environments.

The school only uses methods that have been proved to be successful in the learning environment, and steers clear from exploratory methods because it may cause more harm than good, Harper said.

“They need something that’s a little more specialized sometimes, and the aides’ job is to take what the teacher is saying and adapt whatever they need to do to the instructions so that the student better understands what they’re being asked to do,” Harper said. “Every student gets what they need in a different way.”

Harper worked with Lee-Ogle-Whiteside Regional Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth and Educational Administration Mentor Jeff Brown for the past couple of years on setting up such a school locally. That came to fruition a couple of months ago, and CDH is leasing space from Open Sesame Day Care at Lincoln. The school also will use Lincoln’s gym and playground.

School days runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and until 2 p.m. on Thursday. Classes are in session year-round, with some 2-week intermissions throughout the year.

“We’ve found that a lot of students that we’ve worked with have setbacks when they don’t come to school for a long period of time,” Harper said. “They lose a lot of their skills, so we go year-round to make sure that they are not going backwards and continue forward.”

More information

Classes begin Sept. 9 at CDH Educational Center, a therapuetic day school for students from Kindergarten to 22 years with autism, and other developmental delays and learning disorders.

It is located on the second floor in the former Lincoln School at 501 S. Lincoln Avenue in Dixon.

Go to or call 815-255-8866 to enroll or for more information.

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