Have Dreams’ mission is to help individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn, function independently and socialize so that they may realize their full potential and develop into contributing members of their communities. Have Dreams offers programs for individuals diagnosed with ASD from the age of 16 months through young adulthood. Many families refer to Have Dreams as a “haven of hope” because our extracurricular programs help their child gain important life skills. The support and services we offer help to alleviate the social isolation often experienced by those touched by ASD. As a spectrum disorder, ASD impacts individuals with great variability from moderate to severe. Have Dreams serves individuals across the autism spectrum, affording priority to those with greater challenges as there are fewer alternative options available to them.
Have Dreams was founded in 1996 by parents and educators seeking to fill a void in the community for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a complex, neurological disorder that impacts the functioning of the brain. The existing social, recreational and leisure programs for typically developing children were not designed to meet the widely divergent needs of children with ASD. Have Dreams collaborated with advisors from the University of Chicago’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Development Disorder Clinic to develop our innovative programming. At that time, the prevalence of ASD was 1 child in every 2,500. Our program served seven children once a week in a park district space over an ice rink. Today, the incidence of ASD is 1 in 68 children, and one in 42 boys. Have Dreams serves over 140 children, teens and young adults with ASD and their families at our facilities in Park Ridge and in Evanston.
The sweet faces in the photo above are of some of the first participants who started at Have Dreams 20 years ago. In the two decades since it was taken, much has changed, but Have Dreams has remained true to its founding principles: understanding the culture of autism, respecting the individual, providing a safe, predictable environment and offering meaningful learning opportunities for individuals to reach their full potential.
- Have Dreams began with one after-school Social Skills class for seven elementary-aged chldren from Park Ridge. As the prevalance of autism has grown, Have Dreams now provides 28 programs totaling 1,000 hours of direct services a week to over 150 children, teens and young adults from 23 Chicago-area communities.
- In 1996, Have Dreams had no programs for preschool-aged children. In 2007, as children were diagnosed at a much younger age, Have Dreams began the Wee Dream early intervention program for children age 16 months to five years old to help build the skills needed for school.
- When Have Dreams began, there were no programs for teens and young adults. These programs would grow as our participants grew. Today, Have Dreams offers four different programs for young adults ages 18 and up, providing critical independent living skills, job training and career coaching.
- At the time we were founded, very few sources of autism education were available to the community. Over the past several years, Have Dreams has trained over 6,000 educators, parents and professionals in best practice autism methods.