Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world, growing at a rate of 10 to 17 percent each year. As many as one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism. With those statistics, it is no wonder the demand for support services is growing. Fort Worth, although the 12th largest city in the United States, lags behind in available resources for families, children, and adults with autism.
I discovered through my own journey as a parent to an autistic child, the best resources can be hard to find. My goal is to highlight services and activities that exist in the Fort Worth community for parents.
To bring awareness year-round (don’t forget to celebrate April as World Autism Month!), I’ve put together a resource guide for parents, children, and young adults that focuses specifically on Fort Worth.
As a medical diagnosis, autism must be diagnosed by a child psychiatrist or psychologist, pediatric neurologist, or developmental pediatrician. If you are just getting started on your journey, you may have heard your local public school district can diagnose autism. This isn’t exactly true, but understandably confusing.
School districts may provide an educational diagnosis to provide academic services and accommodations. However, this is entirely separate from a medical diagnosis, which is required for insurance to cover therapies. All resources listed in this guide are for medical diagnosis.
Child Study Center is considered the gold standard for developmental disorders and diagnosis. They offer developmental pediatric services as well as psychological services. They have an excellent reputation and for that reason, the wait to be seen can be very long. They are located on the outskirts of downtown Fort Worth.
Dr. Nesli Chandler is a former Child Study Center clinical psychologist who has gone into private practice. She is highly recommended and has a waitlist of four to six weeks. Dr. Chandler offers diagnostic services for children ages 2-18. She is located in 76107.
Lighthouse Psychological Services was founded by Dr. NaStassia Greer, a licensed psychologist. Dr. Greer focuses on assessing teens and adults. Many autistics, females, and minority groups, in particular, can go undiagnosed well into their teens and adulthood. It is also worth noting that Lighthouse is a Black, female-founded business. Dr. Greer is located in 76244.
LinkED is a nonprofit that focuses on identifying learning differences and with its consulting psychologist, it is able to offer a DSM-5 diagnosis for Autism if needed. LinkED is known for its comprehensive evaluations and reports and is also located just outside of downtown.
Neuropsychology of Fort Worth is run by Dr. Christopher Anagnostis. Dr. Anagnostis is a licensed psychologist and board-certified clinical neuropsychologist. His diagnostic assessments seek to diagnose and offer meaningful treatment and therapy suggestions. Neuropsychology of Fort Worth is located in 76109.
The Momentum Center is operated by Dr. Cosha Peterson, a licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. Peterson diagnoses children and teens and offers a family-centered approach. She is located in 76107.
TELOS Project is a nonprofit public health corporation offering both family therapy and diagnostic services. I will be upfront with my bias here and say this is who we used for our son’s diagnosis. We could not have been happier. It offers thorough testing and excellent feedback and support resources. This group does not “leave you hanging” once you receive a diagnosis. TELOS also offers teen and adult therapy groups for gamers, a common special interest amongst autistics. They are located near the hospital district.
Traditional ABA Therapy
Applied behavior analysis is the proven and accepted course of therapy for autism. Although there is no shortage of ABA centers in surrounding cities, there are few located in the heart of Fort Worth. But it seems to be changing, and it’s very exciting.
>> RELATED READ :: The Many Faces of Autism Spectrum Disorder <<
Many children will attend ABA therapy full time, while others may need only several hours a day. ABA therapists may work independently and come to your home. You may see others in a clinic. Clinics promoting or who have had a history of promoting “cures” for autism are not represented here.
Action Behavior Center is yet another center with multiple locations across the south and the southwestern United States. Although the idea of a “chain” ABA center can feel impersonal, when you have a child with autism and you don’t know what to do or where to go, finding a center that can help your child’s needs right away is valuable. ABC is located in North Forth Worth and touts immediate availability.
Behavioral Innovations is an ABA center with many locations throughout the U.S. In the surrounding areas alone it has eight locations, with the closest off Chisholm Trail in 76126. Behavioral Innovations partners with speech, occupational, and physical therapists to offer a “one stop shop” to patients. Chain ABA centers can be seen as a one-size-fits-all approach, while other families find it ideal for their already full lives.
Blue Sprig is another ABA center with multiple locations throughout the U.S. Its Fort Worth location is located off Chisholm Trail in 76126. Blue Sprig offers center-based, home-based, school-based, community-based, and even early childhood.
Child Study Center offers full-time ABA therapy in its autism clinic. Full-time ABA is suitable for children not yet school-aged or unable to manage traditional schooling because of support needs.
Clearfork Behavioral is the privately owned business of Jenifer Hernandez licensed BCBA. Jenifer comes to your home to offer ABA therapy and academic instruction.
Concept Connection is an ABA clinic offering a variety of services in multiple locations in North Texas. In addition to clinic work, it provides in-home ABA therapy, school shadowing/inclusion support, and community therapy, such as attending a summer camp with clients. Fort Worth Concept Connections is located on Magnolia in 76110.
The Full Spectrum Child is an independent and locally owned ABA center offering several unique options. Along with ABA, it offers a “Mommy and Me” play class that trains parents as well as an intensive four-week “Potty Training Partners” program. TFSC is fully transparent and offers parents the option to observe and be involved in therapies. It is located in 76110.
Therapy and Beyond is a well-established ABA center with locations throughout the United States. The Fort Worth location is off South Hulen Street and offers ABA as well as speech and occupational therapies on site.
Speech, Occupational, and Non-Traditional Therapies
Many families decide ABA therapy isn’t the right fit for them, or need additional therapies beyond ABA. Speech, occupational, and physical are all common therapies to support autistic individuals, but there are other less common therapies that can do amazing things.
Beata Brooks is an independent speech pathologist who works with clients aged birth to 11 in their own homes. For families with multiple children or multiple therapy appointments, an in-home professional can be a lifesaver. Beata is based in 76110.
Cowtown Pediatrix is a speech and occupational therapy clinic with a great reputation in Fort Worth. It is located in 76116. Its occupational therapy rooms and equipment will make your child think he or she is visiting a really cool indoor play center. Sensory processing, vestibular function, and visual spatial skills are all areas people with autism can struggle with and occupational therapy is transformative.
Kids Care Home Health offers therapies such as physical, occupational, and speech, but it also offer nursing services. Each person with autism is unique and requires different degrees of support, some more than others. Home Health can be a lifeline to families with high-support needs.
Miller Speech & Hearing Clinic is a training clinic for graduate and post-graduate clinicians at Texas Christian University. Students are closely supervised and guided by professors, and parents are encouraged to view each speech, hearing, feeding, and swallow therapy session. It offers low-cost therapy for those not using insurance. Our son attended Miller for four years. Its student clinicians are wonderful. Miller is a great option for parents who are already financially stretched with other therapies. Miller is on the TCU Campus 76109.
Monkey Mouths offers a wide range of therapy beyond speech, occupational, and feeding. It works with children who have auditory processing difficulties, conduct minimally invasive swallow studies, and even pelvic floor therapy, which can be life-changing for children who hold their bowels or suffer from incontinence, both common amongst autistic children of all ages. Monkey Mouths is located right off Chisholm Trail in 76132.
Rising Stars Speech Therapy is owned by Ashleigh Jochens, a licensed speech pathologist. Jochens is centrally located in 76109 and works with pediatric patients.
Springbox Farms is a family wellness community and organic farm. It specializes in nurturing highly sensitive children through play and connection.
Talking Tadpoles offers speech therapy, feeding therapy, and the alternative communication intervention called Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), a common visual communication tool used by non-verbal autistics. It has several locations in the metro area with the closest in 76126.
Wildflower Music Therapy is a group of board-certified music therapists based in Fort Worth that offers music lessons and music therapy for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as neurological disabilities and emotional disorders. It works with all ages, from toddlers to seniors.
Wings of Hope Equine Therapy is admittedly a bit outside the central Fort Worth zone I’m aiming for, but equine therapy has been proven so valuable I couldn’t leave it off the list. Equine therapists are trained and certified to incorporate horses into therapy.
Victory Therapy Center employees have trained PATH, Intl. certified therapeutic riding instructors and physical therapists providing equine therapy to children, adults, veterans, first responders, and their families.
Academic-Focused Programs and Schools
Regardless of the level of support a child needs, academics always has a place. Schools in this category expertly combine structure and behavioral reinforcement, while acknowledging each child’s differences as they teach traditional academic subjects.
Miller Speech & Hearing Early Childhood offers early childhood classrooms for children aged three to five in a level 1 and level 2 class. Classes focus on language development and early literacy, along with social and play skills. Classes meet once or twice a week depending on the level. My own son attended level 2 classes, and we had a wonderful experience.
Monkey U is a preschool preparatory class offered one to two days a week. It focuses on building language to get children ready for preschool. Classes open each semester and usually have a waitlist.
Bride of Hope Academy is an academic-focused program within Hope Center for Autism. It serves both preschool and school-aged children up to fourth grade in a highly structured environment using ABA principles.
Green Oaks School is a full-service educational institution serving students with down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, including children with autism who may also have an intellectual disability. Green Oaks offers school, adult learning, life prep, summer programs, and even social clubs. They are located just outside Fort Worth.
Hill School also focuses on supporting students with learning differences by addressing the needs of the whole child. Hill School offers a traditional school year and program for kindergarten through 12th grade, while offering slightly more behavioral support than some other schools.
Jane Justin School is part of the Cook Children’s Network and Child Study Center. It accepts children with developmental disabilities from ages three to 22 with the goal of returning each child to a traditional academic setting. JJS responds to each child’s individual needs and respects their unique differences. It runs a traditional school year with regular school hours and has an optional summer school.
Key School is focused on supporting students with learning differences, such as children with autism. It has small classes, individualized instruction, and excellent summer programs. It serves students grades kindergarten through 12th.
Rooted Life Montessori is slightly out of Fort Worth, located in Burleson. Using the Montessori approach combined with cognitive and educational therapies, Rooted Life reaches each student by understanding that no two students are the same. It’s available for children ages three to 12 and recently started a summer program.
Shine Behavioral Academy is also an ABA-style academic education-based program for students with autism who are elementary-aged. It’s located in Arlington.
Star Point is a laboratory school through TCU that works with students with learning disabilities, which is very common amongst children with autism. Unlike other schools, this school does not overtly focus on behavioral concerns. Through small class sizes, high support, and respecting the individual child, behavior is not a focus here.
There was a time I thought my child would never have the chance to participate in typical after-school activities. I am happy to tell you I was wrong.
Some digging is required, but our community is full of hidden gems; warm and nurturing spaces where kids with autism are safe and free to express themselves as they are.
>> RECOMMENDED RESOURCE :: Activities for Kids with Differences and Disabilities in the Fort Worth Area <<
Acing Autism is a unique program designed to help build connection and fitness amongst children with autism. It meets at the TCU tennis center on the weekends and classes run quarterly. The program directors are all trained and have their own personal connections to autism, and everyone else involved volunteers their time. Ratios are 1:1 or better.
Aqua Tots SNAP Class is a special need aquatic program. Not all children with autism struggle to swim, but many do for various reasons. Aqua-Tots is a great place to address those concerns in a safe environment.
Beyond Karate offers karate classes for students with developmental disabilities and other additional needs. Instructors work across the metroplex and will come to your location if you can round up a full class.
Casa Mañana Musical Theater Production for All Abilities is a year-long performance-based class for students with additional needs. The class is once a week and students perform on stage at Mayfest at the end of the year.
First Tee is not specifically for children with autism or other disabilities, but it is a low-cost, relationship-based program that focuses on meeting the individual’s needs.
Miracle League provides kids and young adults the opportunity to play baseball regardless of their abilities. Games are played on custom fields so those with mobility and vestibular functioning difficulties can play with ease. We are fortunate to have a chapter in Fort Worth.
Rejoice Dance “Wonderfully Made” class meets at the CERA Center near Whole Foods. The class is offered currently for ages four to nine and is open for children with physical and developmental disabilities. The space is quiet and even features a side entrance to avoid walking through potential crowds.
Scouts, a.k.a. Boy Scouts and Girl Scout troops, is available all over the nation. Although not specifically designed for autism, many troops are formed around neurodiverse groups of kids. It’s worth looking into troops in your area or even forming your own!
Story Stage is a company focussed on communication, a core deficit in autistic persons. They have loads of resources, programs, classes, and fun interactions to help build communication confidence and social skills in children.
>> RECOMMENDED RESOURCE :: Guide to Extracurricular Activities <<
Summer Camps and Family Activities
Many kids may only handle stepping out of their comfort zone for short amounts of time. Most of the summer activities locally are half-day or full-day activities, but for that older camper or adventurous family, there are a few overnight options located within driving distance that a truly special.
Camp Summit is a 100 percent, barrier-free camp for ages six to 99. Cost is based on household income. Although not in Fort Worth, this camp can accommodate children who need high levels of support and offer them a priceless traditional camp experience.
Elijah’s Retreat is a low-cost family retreat in East Texas where families who have autistic children can come and be in nature, create memories together, and be completely accepted.
Fort Worth Zoo No Limits is a specific week of Summer Zoo Camp held to welcome children with autism who have higher levels of support. The Fort Worth Zoo is the only zoo in Texas designated a Certified Autism Center, and generally, any week of camp would be a great fit, but No Limits goes above and beyond traditional supports.
Game On offers great camps for those of us who have sensory-seekers who need minimal or moderate support. Although not designed for autism, this is the camp to get the wiggles out, run all over the place, and get loud. A unique attribute of Game On Camps is that you don’t have to make week-long commitments or even a full-day commitment. It’s a great “try it and see” style camp.
iCanShine is an organization that teaches individuals with a wide variety of challenges to swim, dance, and ride a two-wheel bike. This year it is hosting a one-week iCanBike camp sponsored by Cook Children’s June 6-11.
Kids Who Care offers musical theater camps. Although not specifically for autism, Kids Who Care embraces kids with differences and would be a welcome environment for ages four to 18 who need mild support.
Summer You at All Saints is a summer program run on the All Saints’ campus. They offer a variety of fun activities from robot building to yoga. Although open for all children, this is another camp that captures the interests of many autistic kiddos.
>> RECOMMENDED RESOURCE :: 2022 Guide to Summer Camps <<
Parent Support and Education
Everybody needs someone who understands what they are going through. Whether you are seeking out experiences of others, education, or solidarity, there is a group out there for you. There are even groups for autistic teens and how to deal with their “neurotypical” parents!
Traditional Support Groups
Autism Parent Training at Camp Worth is an actual training program to help parents better serve their children with autism. Parents learn skills to help build communication, decrease negative behaviors, and teach their children coping skills to better manage social scenarios.
ESC Region 11 is an education service center for public and charter schools in the area. Along with professional development for teachers, its workshops are also open to parents and it has a lot of autism resources.
Links of Hope provides parents of children with behavioral and emotional concerns such as ADHD, depression, OCD, and ASD with support and education. The group is led by a licensed social worker and they meet once a month.
Miller Speech LEAPS program is designed for parents of young children and teaches them to use language support strategies at home to improve communication
Everyone lives a full life these days, but for parents of children with autism or other developmental disabilities, that is especially true. Attending an in-person event may feel like a stretch. Facebook groups are a wonderful way to connect with other parents, ask questions, and get feedback from caregivers who are further along in their autism journey.
- Fort Worth Moms of Kids with Differences and Disabilities is a group run by FW Moms for moms who have children with all kinds of differences and disabilities.
- FW Autism Caregivers Community is another Fort Worth-based group that offers support and community to not just parents, but any caregiver of a person with autism.
- #momstrongfw is a group of moms who actively support each other on Facebook and offer a monthly in-person meetup, usually at a local restaurant in 76109.
- Raising Poppies is a group specifically for highly gifted children, many of whom also have autism.
- Instagram #actuallyautistic accounts
Believe it or not, Instagram is a great resource for learning more about autism. Listening to young adults who are actually autistic is invaluable. You may not always like what you hear, but listening to autistic voices is vital to understanding your autistic child.
Instagram Parent Education Accounts
These accounts are run by professionals who work with the autistic community. Keep in mind that strangers on the Internet are not a substitute for professional guidance, but supplemental sources like these accounts can give deeper understanding, a unique perspective, or just lift you up on a hard day. This is a shortlist of my favorites.