Defeating the Isolation of Autism -
One Proven Method at a Time
SDCA students
Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial
By Adam Dreyfus, Senior Director, Sarah Dooley Center for Autism at St. Joseph's Villa

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and while science still has unanswered questions around what causes autism, there is much we do understand. 

We know what autism is; we know how to treat it; and we can celebrate how these proven educational methods have made a difference in the lives of children, adults and their families. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that hinders a person’s ability to communicate and interact. The diagnosis includes the presence of repetitive behaviors that can further isolate the individual. Their challenges with communicating can result in behaviors that are confusing and frustrating, but I have never, in all of my years working with students on the spectrum, met an individual who did not yearn to connect with other people.

Autism affects one in 59 children today in the United States. At the beginning of my career, some 25 years ago, about one in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism.

This trend seems alarming, especially given we don’t truly know the cause of autism or why rates are on the rise. However, we know our diagnostic tools have sharpened over the years. We know parents, adults and children are more open in sharing about their diagnosis. We also know there is hope even amidst this escalating rate.

Click here to read Adam's full article on the Richmond Times-Dispatch website.
NBC12 awards teacher Michelle Hughey
for Excellence in Education
Teacher Michelle Hughey has changed hundreds of lives at our Sarah Dooley Center for Autism over the past 13 years. For her unrelenting dedication and compassion, NBC12 surprised her with their Excellence in Education Award.

Michelle gives her all to every student and makes the most of every teachable moment. She works with some of our largest, most severely impacted students. Last year, one of her non-verbal students was unable to walk into a room with people. At his graduation ceremony, he walked through the Villa chapel filled with people and applause–with Michelle at his side. His parents described this as the happiest day of their lives, noting they didn’t invite anyone else because they never expected their son to make an appearance.

The award was presented to Michelle by NBC12’s Anthony Antoine and representatives from Henrico Federal Credit Union.
Integrated Villa programs help
Destiny's vibrant personality shine
Destiny and Jessica
By Jessica Hofmeyer, Sarah Dooley Center for Autism teacher

Destiny was in my classroom at the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism (SDCA) for two years. Before her graduation, I got the honor of watching her grow and learn with her peers, her teachers, and all of those around her.

Destiny always beamed when she socialized. Everyone was her friend, and everyone had an inside joke with her that made each relationship special and unique. When we had music group in our classroom, Destiny would get her peers to stand up and dance. She constantly tries to make everyone around her happy. You would often see her teaching someone how to play a game, helping out with snack group, or taking care of our classroom pet.

I remember her getting ready for prom both of the years she was my student. Everyone on campus jumped at the opportunity to help her out with such a big event in her life. Her classroom instructional assistant LaShawn bought her dresses and shoes both years, I bought her jewelry to go with her dress, Day Support did her hair, and Larry at Day Support bought her a corsage and accompanied her to the dance; he even wore a suit! Everyone at the prom wanted a chance to dance with her.

Destiny's time at SDCA was well spent and filled with love. Although she began here in a very difficult point in her life, she prevailed and built a better life for herself one skill set at a time.The day she graduated, all of SDCA dressed up in costumes, played music and gave her a parade. She is the brightness that SDCA strives to encourage in all of its students.

Destiny continues to thrive in the Villa's Adult Day Support program today. Staff help her stay active in the community through volunteer activities and provide pre-vocational training opportunities like cooking classes . She and other individuals with autism who have aged out of school are able to work toward independence and fulfilling personal goals in Adult Day Support.

Watch our video to see Destiny in action!
Community partners donate Easter baskets
for every Villa child
Colortree Group
We're so grateful to our donors who show love to our children and families through their generous gifts. This Easter, 340 Villa kids will receive decorated baskets filled with necessities, toys and treats. Huge thanks to our incredible Easter basket donors!

  • 31st Street Baptist Church
  • Allianz
  • Altria
  • Capital One
  • Colortree Group
  • Deep Run High School
  • Epiphany Lutheran Church
  • General Federation of Women's Clubs, Lee District
  • Odell
  • Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

We hold donation drives throughout the year to bring cheer to our clients and help them through difficult times. Find out how you or your organization can get involved on our website.
We're Hiring!
Join Our Team
St. Joseph's Villa is seeking BCBAs, LPCs and LCSWs as Independent Contractors to provide outpatient therapy in a clinical model. Qualified candidates must be licensed in the state of Virginia. If you're looking for a stimulating and rewarding place to work with exciting opportunities for growth, we'd love to talk to you!

Apply today at .
We never stop believing in children and their families.

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