The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre was developed by our Executive Director, Serena Thompson. Serena is unique in this industry, as it wasn’t her education or professional experience that led her on this journey, but rather the love she has for her son, who is on the Autism spectrum. Serena understands better than anyone how important individualized learning plans are for each and every child on the spectrum.  Serena’s son Daniel has experienced a variety of educational settings, from private school to home schooling to the public school board. Unfortunately, none of these experiences truly addressed the unique learning abilities Daniel has. The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre was born after Serena had to pull Daniel out of his private school and was yet again at a turning point. Daniel had been in the public system for a short time; however, due to severe regression he was pulled out. Daniel was then home schooled, which was an excellent academic alternative, though it did not provide the social setting that Daniel needed and so desperately wanted.  Daniel was then placed in a small private school. The private school provided an extraordinary social opportunity, but the lack of Autism awareness by the administration proved to be detrimental to Daniel’s success. Of course, Serena was upset that the school she had researched and spent so much time with didn’t work out, so she decided that it was time to take matters into her own hands.  There is no one more determined than a mother trying to help her child, and so The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre was born – the only school for children with autism in York Region.

The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre believes that every child has the potential to do and be something great. We also understand that in order for children to be given the opportunity to reach their full potential, they need to be taught in a way that they understand. The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre takes great pride in the program that we create for each and every child. We accept children from grades K-8, however, we believe that no two children have the same learning plan — no matter what “grade” they are in. When a child comes to us at The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre, they are assessed in every unit that we teach. Based on those assessments, information we learn from the family and any outside resources, we create the child’s learning plan. We then have a parent meeting to discuss the child’s learning goals and the specific plan we have created to achieve those goals. Unlike other educational institutions, The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre is continuously assessing the children and changing their learning plan as they achieve goals and progress. The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre depends greatly on the involvement of our parents. Children need an entire team to grow and prosper. The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre works closely with parents to ensure that our children have every chance to succeed.

“If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.”

– O. Ivar Lovaas

Imagine a place where every single person believed the statement above whole-heartedly; where the differences in the children were not just accepted but embraced. A place where children were free to be themselves, are taught to love themselves and encouraged to be better for themselves every single day.  The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre strives to be “that place” for all of our students, every single day.

Learning differences are just that: differences. Having a learning difference doesn’t mean you can’t learn, it means you learn differently. Imagine sitting in a classroom where everyone was speaking a foreign language and no one took the time to explain to you what was being said. Unfortunately, that is how most children with Autism feel in their classrooms.

Children with Autism have unique barriers to learning, some of which include auditory processing impairments, attention difficulties, inability to generalize, trouble with task and event sequencing, problems with organization and planning, and difficulties with time and transitioning. These barriers require modifications to the mainstream curriculum to help ensure their success. However, modifications cannot be put in place until we learn how each individual child learns best. Not all children have the same barriers thus not every child will succeed with the same plan. Individual learning plans for children with Autism are essential in their learning journey. Without these plans, children will never be able to overcome the unique barriers they face.

school for children with autism
school for children with autism

The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre provides what every child with Autism truly needs: a safe, structured, dynamic environment that understands and embraces children with learning differences.  Caring, understanding, welcoming and flexible staff look at each child as an individual, and create a program based on their unique barriers. Our evidence-based curriculum has proven to achieve results.

As our school for children with Autism, it is our goal for our children to understand that while they may have unique barriers to learning, they also have strengths and abilities that make them shine and will allow them to be successful.

Our daily schedule offers frequent breaks, which allows for children’s continuous concentration throughout the day. Our “complete” program offers direct instruction, modified Canadian curriculum, art, music and daily movement, all structured to encourage our children to work through their barriers and be successful. Our program is designed to allow for our children to build friendships, accept and embrace social situations, enhance current skills while learning new ones, encourage teamwork and build self-confidence.

The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre also understands that a large number of children with ASD also have severe anxiety. It isn’t uncommon for our children’s anxiety to be so debilitating that it prevents them from completing the simplest daily tasks. The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre has developed a program that we run every day with our students. This program was designed to teach our children effective ways to manage their anxiety on a daily basis.

Our team is comprised of highly educated and experienced individuals who have devoted their life to see our children reach their full potential. It isn’t enough however to be educated in Autism or have years of experience under your belt. What sets our team apart from other teams is how much we love the children who attend our centre. I have always said that I can teach anyone to work with Daniel, but I can’t teach someone to love him. If you love someone, you want to see them grow and will do whatever necessary to ensure that happens. Our team works tirelessly day in and day out to ensure that our kids have every opportunity available to them for success.

All team members at The Lighthouse are certified in Behaviour Management Systems.  Behaviour Management Systems focuses on non-invasive de-escalation techniques. One of our Senior Therapists is a certified BMS trainer and ensures that our entire team is current on all of the updated information BMS has to offer.  For more information on BMS visit their site

Serena Thompson

Executive Director of Curriculum

Jenna Williams

Senior Therapist

Dianne Dalisay

Senior Therapist

Amber Boychuk

Instructor Therapist

Marissa Fleming

Instructor Therapist

Dr. Amanda Azarbehi

Consulting Clinical Psychologist

Emily Gismondi

Instructor Therapist

Jennifer Cheung

Supervising Teacher

Samantha Edwards

Senior Therapist

Jackie McPherson

Instructor Therapist

Jeff Williams

Learning Assistant

Katie Michelin

Instructor Therapist

Sydney Miller

Instructor Therapist

Caroline Power

Instructor Therapist

Savannah Cohen

Primary Teacher

Are you a therapy centre?

No we do not offer direct 1:1 IBI therapy.  Our children are all working on modified Ontario Curriculum and researched therapeutic teaching modules like direct instruction. We do not offer therapy services. We do, however, welcome children who have a therapy team in place. We will work closely with the child’s team to ensure that the therapy goals and the educational goals mesh well. If a child requires 1:1 assistance, but still meets our admission requirements, we welcome the family to provide a 1:1 aid, at the family’s cost, to attend The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre with the student.

Do you follow the Ontario Curriculum?

We do follow the Ontario Curriculum with modifications to individualize learning plans that are specific to each student in our centre.  Our programs also include evidence based treatment modules to ensure the success of each of our children.

Do you take children who do not have Autism?

Our admission requirement for our students is that they have a primary diagnosis of Autism. We understand that the majority of our students will also have other diagnoses; however, the student’s primary diagnosis must be Autism.

What is the student-to-staff ratio?

Our ratios change depending on the ability and age of our students. Our homeroom ratios are 3:1 with 1 Ontario-certified teacher to every 7 students. We do not offer 1:1 ratios; however, if your child meets our admission criteria we can help you find a 1:1 assistant. We also welcome current team members that families may already have in place to come and assist your child. During our admission intake, if our staff determines that a child requires 1:1 assistance in order to participate in our program, this will have to be set up prior to the child’s first day.

Do you offer occupational therapy and/or speech therapy?

We do not offer regular occupational and/or speech therapy. Our staff participates in regular training sessions with both occupational and speech therapists to ensure our children are receiving the best possible programming. We do have wonderful relationships with local occupational and speech therapists that we can arrange for you. Should you already have an occupational therapist or speech therapist, we are happy to work with them to ensure that each child has every chance at success.

Is the Lighthouse a not-for-profit learning centre?

The Lighthouse is a for-profit educational facility. We explain why in this blog post.

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