Neurodiverse people, who have neurological differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other conditions, often struggle with generalizing information or adapting to transitions in daily life. Unfortunately, the implicit expectations for behavior in, for example, classrooms, are not always clear to them. Instead of receiving the necessary accommodations and support to reach their potential, these individuals are often labeled as “bad” or “wrong”. In the state of Minnesota, special education students accounted for 42.3 percent of all reported disciplinary incidents, despite being only 14.6 percent of the student population. It is important to note that repeated discipline referrals, including suspensions, are linked to higher dropout rates. In fact, the special education dropout rate in Minnesota is twice that of the general population.
In 2023, Franklin Center introduced an innovative early education model in our kindergarten classroom, Minnehaha Falls. This innovative approach combines academic instruction with individualized therapy goals, bringing two essential pieces of a neurodiverse child’s development into one model. Each child in the classroom receives personalized support from a designated therapy team consisting of two to three registered behavior therapists, a senior therapist, and a treatment lead. This model is unique to this classroom and provides a rare opportunity for neurodiverse Kindergartners to receive full-time behavioral therapy and pursue academic learning.
Unlike other schools, which may provide only therapy or academic instruction, Franklin Center combines both to meet the individual needs of each student. This results in a highly effective and individualized approach to learning and treatment, leading to sustained progress in all developmental areas. Rather than merely correcting or punishing undesirable behavior, we help our students understand the underlying reasons behind their actions. Franklin Center prioritizes “regulation before education”, as we believe that people learn best when their most basic needs are fulfilled. This approach fosters self-awareness and emotional regulation skills, which are beneficial in various situations throughout the students’ lives.
The Minnehaha Falls classroom, at the heart of Franklin Center's educational model, is a testament to its success. Not only does it foster learning flexibility and the generalization of behavioral and academic skills, but it also serves as a catalyst for collaboration among the academy, therapy services, and families. In Minnesota, where the special education graduation rate from 2019-2022 stood at only 64.3 percent, Franklin Academy, with its 100 percent neurodiverse population, achieved a remarkable 100 percent graduation rate during the same period. This achievement underscores the effectiveness of the innovative and nurturing environment created by Franklin Center, which consistently defies expectations and empowers students, clients, and participants to surpass their anticipated potential, leading them to lead fulfilling lives.