The Early Years
With Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) now impacting 1 in every 48 births according to the Centers for Disease Control, it can be difficult to recall the confusion, mystery and fear that was associated with autism in 1976. It was in just this climate, when parents of children with autism were often adrift and alone in facing their child’s diagnosis, that Susan Buckler and Jamey Wolff founded a school with just two students in a church basement. Their vision was to provide the treatment and education this population deserved. Launched under the name of The Children’s Annex in 1976, Susan and Jamey could never have predicted that decades later, their school would be recognized as a model school, and highly regarded for fostering the potential of each child by using research-based educational practices for children with autism. The school has changed the lives of thousands of students and their families, and have trained thousands of professional educators, clinicians, and administrators from throughout New York State.
In their third year of operation, Susan and Jamey met two students, Michael and Jenny, who would change the fate and course of The Children’s Annex. Unlike the other students at the school, who experienced more commonly understood developmental disabilities, Michael and Jenny’s challenges were different. In collaboration with their parents, Susan and Jamey worked to understand their diagnosis of autism and to design educational plans that met their specific needs.
As word went out that there was a new school dedicated to becoming an exemplary educational, treatment, and diagnostic center that was seeing optimal outcomes for individuals and families impacted by autism, the demand for the school's programs increased. The program doubled in size every year through 1980, with even greater growth following receipt of its charter from New York State and 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status in 1978.
Growth, as Autism is Better Understood
By 1983, The Children's Annex had doubled its student body annually, was operating in two locations, had initiated a preschool program, collaborated with parents and staff to found the Hudson Valley Autism Society, and widened its geographic range by beginning a program in Ellenville, NY. It became evident that there was a great need for the services provided by the school, which spurred Susan and Jamey to kick off a capital campaign to build a permanent home for the Kingston program. The building at 70 Kukuk Lane was completed in 1987 and remains the principal facility for the school, as well as its many related programs. A permanent facility for the Ellenville school followed in 1994, where the students participated in an integrated program with Ellenville Kindergarten students. In the meantime, recognizing the value of early intervention for children with ASDs, The Children’s Annex had begun providing community-based preschool services in homes and childcare centers.
The Children’s Annex was also taking a prominent advisory position within New York State by participating in various panels, boards, and task forces that provided guidance on policy and clinical practice guidelines. The schools in Kingston and Ellenville, as well as the community-based program, were serving 150 students annually by 2000. These students came from counties and districts throughout the Hudson Valley, and the school was providing a wide range of services and referrals to families and individuals within the community.
In 2004, The Children’s Annex expanded to include a diagnostic and consultative clinic for the entire community. The clinic provides state-of-the-art diagnostic services and evaluations for individuals of all ages, and offers trainings and seminars to public schools and agencies working with people with ASDs. Phase I of another successful capital campaign was completed in the fall of 2007, and resulted in a new extension to the Kingston facility to accommodate the new clinic.
A New, More Fitting Name
By now, the school was serving 250 students annually, and maintained an operating budget of $8,000,000. Administrative Director Susan Buckler and Program Director Jamey Wolff, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, agreed to change the name of the school. While there was trepidation to lose the agency name long associated with program excellence, it was agreed that the school and programs deserved a name that reflected the true breadth of services offered to the autism community.
The new name, Center for Spectrum Services, was confirmed by the New York State Board of Regents in July 2009. This corresponded with Phase II of the capital campaign that had earlier provided the new clinical wing, and which was now charged with raising the necessary funds to replace the modular unit housing the Kingston school’s preschool program. Ground was broken on the preschool construction project in June 2009, and completed a year later, with a permanent Preschool wing now attached to the school.
In 2013, Center for Spectrum Services set out to raise funds and install new playgrounds for both schools. The school initiated a fundraising campaign and raised the necessary $205,000 to fully install two new playgrounds in Kingston, and a new one for its students in Ellenville.
"It has been, and always will be, about the children."
"When we started Spectrum Services 40 years ago, we had a vision that these special children deserved educational opportunities they otherwise would never get. However, it is no long just our vision. The vision is now shared by countless individuals: in the families we serve, our dedicated staff, the school districts that send us their students, and the individuals and businesses that support us."
Susan Buckler and Jamey Wolff, Co-Founders.