Purdue Polytechnic High School tries new methods with autistic students

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — An Indianapolis high school that opened last year is attracting students with autism by taking a different approach to teaching.

Purdue Polytechnic High School offers flexible schedules, project-based learning and a curriculum focused on science, technology, education and mathematics, The (Lafayette) Journal & Courier reported .

The school has 45 students identified as receiving special education services, out of an overall student population of 250.

Student Lucas Kramer, who’s on the autism spectrum, said other schools he’s attended in the past left him feeling bored or like he wasn’t in control. The 15-year-old said the school’s real-world challenges help keep him engaged.

“It encourages students to learn rather than just listen,” Kramer said.

The school’s approach focuses on giving students with autism the flexibility and control they need, said Tonya Taylor, the school’s director of student services.

“We’re trying to simulate (real life) as best as we can,” she said. “We don’t ask a grown-up to sit for an undetermined amount of time. If they’re feeling frustrated — give them the opportunity to move.”

The school also emphasizes the idea of “failing forward” to take some pressure off of students, Taylor said.

“In a traditional school setting sometimes failure isn’t an option,” Taylor said. “That puts a lot of pressure on students with disabilities because they’re trying to pedal really fast to keep up with their peers.”

Officials say the school’s main goal was to appeal to students who weren’t on track to continue their education in college or at a technical school.

Students who graduate from the high school are directly admitted to Purdue Polytechnic Institute in West Lafayette. Students who don’t wish to pursue further education are connected to local professionals in STEM and technology fields, Taylor said.