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Posted on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Ann Arbor educator starting Michigan's 1st high school for students with autism, Asperger's

By Paula Gardner

Ann Arbor will be the location of the first private high school in Michigan offering college-prep curriculum exclusively to students who have high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Veritas Christi High School will open in September, said founder Richard Nye.

veritas christi.jpg

The new home of Veritas Christi High School at 410 S. Maple on the west side of Ann Arbor. It had been the offices of Absolute Title Co., which bought a building on West Liberty.

Angela Cesere |

And while the goal is to establish a rigorous education environment for a specific group of teens, “we really want it to be inclusive,” Nye said. “We’re not limiting it to those two groups.”

The school’s foundation bought the Absolute Title building at 410 S. Maple in late December. The 12,000-square-foot building is located next to the Kroger on South Maple between Jackson and Liberty on the city’s far west side.

Buying the building, Nye said, was the first step toward establishing a multi-building campus, including gymnasium, lab space and performing arts facilities.

“This is a need that’s been around quite a while,” Nye said. “This population of students needs a … small school setting with very, very small classes… and expert faculty.”

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects communication and social interaction, and sometimes cognitive ability.

Asperger’s Syndrome also affects social interaction, so kids who have it can miss the typical social cues - they may avoid eye contact, have trouble starting a conversation or talk incessantly about a single favorite topic. They also can have delayed motor development and, like those with autism, prefer sticking to a routine.

More than 7,000 children in Michigan were diagnosed with autism in 2003, according to a national study from that year, and experts say the incidence continues to grow. An estimated 1.5 people in the United States have the disorder.

Veritas Christi, a nondenominational faith-based school, will target “high-functioning” teens who need the intellectual stimulation of the classroom in an environment where they won’t feel different.

That’s one reason why Nye chose the school’s name.

“We put ‘high school’ in our title on purpose,” he said. “We kept autism and Asperger’s out of our literature.”

The children who would attend Veritas Christi should thrive in a school tailored to their particular needs, Nye said. But they also want a typical high school setting without feeling labeled as different.

Nye, an educator for 40 years, has a 16-year-old grandson in Florida “who should be in a special school, but he wants to go to a high school.”

So he’s trying to create that environment with Veritas Christi. “There would be no stigma to coming here to school,” Nye said.

The building will hold 75 students, Nye said, and the first year will start with 9th and 10th grades. Enrollment is beginning this winter, and hiring will start by spring.

“We’ve be a very small educational community, at least to start with,” Nye said.

The school will fill an educational void that extends across the U.S., said Sally Burton-Hoyle, professor of special education at Eastern Michigan University and director of the Autism Society of Michigan from 1994-2006.

“There are pockets of excellence all over the state,” she said about existing school systems and their approaches to students diagnosed in the autism spectrum. However, schools designed for students with the disorders are rare.

“We’ve not been able to ever point to a (place and say) go here, go there, and have it be the kind of place that would support people with Asperger’s,” she said.

It’s particularly important for teens, who in a typical school setting may not be accepted for their strengths - like focusing very intensely on certain topics or talking a lot about them.

“Hopefully, kids will walk in and know it’s a place where they can feel accepted,” Burton-Hoyle said. “If not, their anxiety goes up and their ability to perform at where they should be goes way down.”

The building will be remodeled in time for school to start in the fall. But it won’t require much work for the first couple of years, said architect Richard Mitchell of the firm Mitchell & Mouat of Ann Arbor.

“The building is actually in pretty good shape,” he said. “…There isn’t a lot of expense for remodeling.”

Mitchell, who designed Skyline High School in Ann Arbor and is on the Veritas Christi Foundation Board, said the focus of Veritas Christi requires a different approach in classroom design.

Mitchell and his team will spend a year observing how the teachers interact with the students before making permanent changes.

He knows smaller classrooms will be likely. So will seminar-style teaching rooms instead of rows of chairs facing a “teaching wall.”

“We’re gong to see what the teaching styles are … and educate ourselves as to the programmatic needs in the building,” Mitchell said. “We’ll tailor the spaces to that.”

Nye started his quest to open the school with the search for land to build a new school, he said. But he soon learned that construction costs would have been too high.

The building on South Maple wasn’t on the market, but broker Charlie Koenn of Swisher Commercial approached the owners of Absolute Title when he realized it could be a good fit. Now the title company, in turn, will move into its new building on West Liberty by April.

Nye considers the location perfect. He also values its location in Ann Arbor, where it has proximity to the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Starting the school will cost about $4 million, Nye said, with funding through the school’s foundation. He’s been building a list of potential students.

Mitchell describes the potential student base as “a student group that doesn’t really have a home.”

Nye is happy to be changing that.

“We are looking at having or alumni come back and say, ‘We loved being here and you helped us out a lot.’”

Paula Gardner is business director of She can be contacted at or 734-623-2586.


Dr. Thomas Beckett

Sun, Apr 29, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

As a Catholic and parent of a special needs son I am happy to see that Veritas Christi High School is open and accepting students!


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 1:50 p.m.

@An: I should have said "will likely adapt from". Then we get into what's the definition of high-functioning Asperger's, which I loosely define as able to muddle through socially with minimal assistance. I didn't find out what Asperger's was until I had mostly adapted. I think I would have adapted faster if I had known what was going on. @Martie: Fixing my diet has made an incremental improvement in my psychology. Others have had more dramatic results. Like I said, DON'T EXPECT A CURE, but it should not be ignored. Visit feingold dot org for more info.

Jay Jay

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:03 a.m.

It is certainly nice to see that Autism spectrum issues are finally starting to get the focus they need. However, I have two issues with what I read: 1) Ann Arbor Academy already works with children of all disabilities including high functioning autism spectrum disabilities. It is a great school and caters to individual needs of each child. Yes, its tuition makes it difficult for many parents, but to provide what they provide, it is an outright bargain. I know, personally, from our sacrifices to put our son through AAA. Further, it offers the most basic necessity other schools cannot and do not -- safety -- a major worry for all parents with disabilities. And it is fully inclusive. 2) It is scary to have a school for autism that has a religious connection -- one of the major issues with autism is that its sufferers can so easily be "channeled" into beliefs which they cannot appropriately question or fully understand. If indeed it will get public funds, it must be non-denominational and inclusive. I have yet to find a school with religious ties that could make such a claim.


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 6:58 p.m.

I am 63 years old and have had my AS diagnosis only 5 years. I can assure you all that I know plenty of other "oldie" AS people. Pish and tush, you don't "grow out of" a neurological difference in your brain. You can, however, learn coping strategies which enable you to appear reasonably "normal" to NTs. (and by the time you are my age you can do that reasonably successfully- but the stress of doing so still takes its toll!)


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 2:22 p.m.

I'm not sure it's fair for to paint this school as unique because of the Asperger's angle. It's not unique in Ann Arbor -- it's not unique in Michigan. There are many schools in Michigan, both near and far, that provide individualized and focused services to Asperger's kids. What is unique is that it is a religious school that caters to Asperger's kids, which is very interesting. It stands to reason that Christian families will be substantially more inclined to choose this school than non-Christian families, many of whom will be uncomfortable placing children with disabilities into an environment in which a religion other than the family's is observed and practiced.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 6:49 p.m.

This is a dream of Mr. Nye's and once people get to know him and his vision for this school, I think they will find that at the core of this is and all that matters is that Rich cares about these kids and does not care if they are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or otherwise. He simply wishes to provide something that is truly needed, regardless of whether another school or academy claims it has a similar program. Once people encounter Richard Nye's enthusiasm and passion around his mission to make this resource happen for this special group of teens and realize that it really is unique compared to other resources locally and even in the State, then all the detractors will likely quietly fade away. I congratulate Rich Nye and Dan Kruse and wish them and their future students much success.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 12:17 p.m.

As a parent of an Aspergian I am both thrilled and concerned. I am thrilled to know that Michigan has a school geared towards the education of these kids who can not get enough information on their chosen topic of interest and melt down on a regular basis if not challenged enough to keep their minds occupied. I am concerned that, once again, this is a private school. There is nothing out there for those of us who are not rich and can not afford to send our kids to a private school.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : noon

Paula, despite your adding "exclusively", the article still gives the impression that there is nothing like this school in Ann Arbor, especially given the quote from the EMU prof. That certainly does a disservice to Ann Arbor Academy.

Ted Seeber

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

Interesting. As a successful adult with Asperger's, I've got three points of advice: 1. IEPs for every student will be the most important. Such a high school has a chance to put students on career tracks in their chosen obsessions, and that should be your focus. At least HALF of a student's time should be in independent study in his chosen obsession, with a view towards advanced placement tests in senior year. 2. 25% of the student's time should be focused on requirements for graduation according to your state's guidelines- with the ability to "test out" of classes and once again with a view towards passing national advanced placement tests in every subject senior year. 3. The remaining 25% should be forced social activities in leadership roles. By the time a student graduates, he should have had to participate in weekly social events of some sort, and have had the opportunity to plan and delegate tasks to put on one social event himself. I realize that this limits your school to a "mere" 144 students- but you could also group students into the social castes they would have chosen anyway with some sort of blog to encourage this- and each group of 144 students could achieve this.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 11:27 a.m.

"High-functioning Asperger's is something the child will grow out of, by around 30 or so." I disagree with this statement. I would be ok with "may" instead of "will". I know several adults who live with Asperger's and, while they have learned to cope with Asperger's and live life "more normally" they still exhibit many of the Asperger's symptoms. My ex is an example of this...he still has all of the quirks that go with having Asperger's but he has learned to "play with others" a little better. Being in a relationship with an "Aspie" was exhausting. (That is not what lead to our demise though.)

Paula Gardner

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

I"m adding "exclusively" to the first paragraph to help clarify. The program, I"m told, is rigorous enough for any student seeking a college prep curriculum. And there are other schools that include educating children with both autism and Asperger's as part of their programs. But those schools also work with kids who have other diagnoses. It's the single focus on creating an environment for those with autism or Asperger's that makes this unique, several sources told me.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

Well said, Mererdith!


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

Technojunkie wrote: "High-functioning Asperger's is something the child will grow out of, by around 30 or so." Technojunkie please keep you pseudo-sciene theory about "out growing" Aspergers to yourself. There is no evidence that diet can cure Autism anymore than there is conclusive evidence that vaccinations caused it. For the record there is no diagnosis of "High Functioning Aspergers". Aspergers itself is on the high functining end of the AUTISM spectrum. Creating false hope for parents that it can be "outgrown" can be cruel. Kids diagnosed with Aspergers can and do go on to lead very successful lives but may always have their quirks, just as most typical adults and children do. Aspergers kids struggle with social skills which can make their quirks stand out more. As for the opening of this school, I can only wish I lived in that area so my son could attend. Kudo's to those who started this program, every school district needs one.

Meredith Schindler

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 10:11 a.m.

Ann Arbor has been home to a private middle and high school for students with Aspergers, high functioning autism, ADHD, and other learning differences for thirteen years! We are Ann Arbor Academy, and we are not affiliated with any religion at all. We have graduated roughly sixty students in the last 10 years, and we employ a highly trained staff, including a social worker and transitions counselor, to meet the needs of our students, 80% of whom go to college. The students who do not go to college typically enter a job skills program after graduation. We are thrilled to hear that there are more resources out there for this special population of students, and are looking forward to helping Veritas Christi in any way we can, but we are certainly dismayed that the long term existence of our school was overlooked in this article, especially since we recently chose to advertise with Our website is

Peter Eckstein

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 9:29 a.m.

In many ways this school sounds admirable, but I am surprised at the lack of curiousity displayed by your reporter. The school is labelled as "private", and as such it has every right to have a particular religious orientation, but will it seek public funds or any kind of status as a charter school? The school calls itself "non-denominational", but the name of the school--which my rusty Latin translates as "the truth of Christ"--suggests that it may not be as welcoming to students from a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or agnostic-atheistic background. Will the science curriculum teach evolution and the powerful evidence to support it? I am not making arguments, just raising questions that your reporter should have asked.


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

High-functioning Asperger's is something the child will grow out of, by around 30 or so. Immune system dysfunction appears to play a huge role in the rise of autism. That covers an awful lot but since the gut comprises 60% of the immune system that's a good place to start. Correcting food allergies and intolerances will help to clarify the situation but don't expect a cure. It is absolutely critical to remove all synthetics from your target's diet! Those mostly petrochemical additives will cause cognitive problems in just about everyone but they'll really aggravate autism and ADHD. Wiping out your bicarbonate stores with carbonated beverages is a bad idea too.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.


Top Cat

Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 8:30 a.m.

Is it really true that the incidents of autism are growing or is it a matter that previously many children were being diagnosed for something else? Are we any closer to knowing what causes it? Is it something a child can grow out of?


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 8 a.m.

I am so excited!!! Any schools that I have looked in to for this type of population has been out west or east and too expensive to send my kid to. I am anticipating...he's in 6th grade now! :-)


Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 7:20 a.m.