SAN ANTONIO - For 35 years, The Autism Treatment Center in San Antonio has helped hundreds of children and adults with autism and similar disorders work towards becoming a part of the local community.
The school, along with a therapy clinic and six group homes, also helps people with autism from across the country who move to San Antonio for the specialized care provided by seven teachers.
Joel Thompson has spent the last five years at the school, originally commuting from Austin.
"The drive is about an hour and a half, hour and twenty minutes," said Thompson, who now stays at one of the group homes during the week.
Thompson said he felt called to help children with special needs after volunteering at special needs camps several summers ago.
While he no longer makes the daily three-hour round trip commute, he said he'd do it if he had to.
"I've had other jobs, I've done other things, I've tried other stuff and this to me doesn't compare," he said. "What's unique here and why I make the effort to be here, it's definitely a team approach. I don't feel isolated, I don't feel shut off in the corner."
Thompson and the six other teachers and two nurses currently work out of a center that has seven small classrooms, each usually dedicated to one child or young adult up to 22-years-old.
The center currently has a capital campaign to raise funds to build a new 25,000 square foot facility similar to an ATC center in Dallas which could accommodate up to 40 students. A state of the art therapy clinic opened in 2010.
"I don't think people really understand autism because I talk to my own family and I talk to my own friends and I think they have a perception of maybe what they see in a movie or what they see on Oprah and a lot of people have a fantasy idea," he said. "They see things that in my opinion might sell a book but they don't always see how much hard work it is. You don't always see how unglamorous and difficult it can be and how minor goals can make you really happy."
For more information on the center and their capital campaign, click here to access their website.
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