The Lionheart School for Autistic children

The number of children diagnosed with Autism has increased every year and The Lionheart School in Alpharetta has become a life-line for some of those children. It's helping students live up to their potential academically and beyond.

Vance Gansler, 18, is definitely a "people person," but he says he hasn't always been that outgoing. He's gained a lot of confidence over the last nine years at The Lionheart School.

"It was an exciting feeling to be in school where you know that you're not the only one with special needs," said Gansler.

Gansler struggled to assimilate in the special needs program at regular schools which is why his mother sought out a more specialized learning environment and discovered the school in Alpharetta. It's one of a limited number of campuses in the country tailored to students with Autism.

Patrick Spafford is one of the school's founding parents and says Lionheart was built out of necessity. He says there simply wasn't a place for their children to go.

With an initial group of just six students, Spafford and the other parents sought out specialists willing to explore children's potential.

The school is an environment where "I can't" is replaced with "I can."

"I like to think of it as the old country school where you have the same teachers from kindergarten to eighth grade," said Spafford.

The school's enrollment has grown to 40. The students learn everything from traditional academics to life skills such as handling money and finding a job.

In the "Lionheart For Life" program, older students and their parents prepare for what lies beyond the school years.

Every week Gansler now goes to work at the local YMCA and after nine years of a total turn-around, his mother says the sky is the limit.

At this point, it's too soon to assess if Gansler will one day be able to live independently, but it's clear to see that he's happy.

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