Our History

Mission Statement

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.


As a pioneer in the social skills programming for children with autism, 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. Existing community programs for typically developing children and for children with developmental disabilities were not designed to meet the widely divergent needs of children with ASD. To address this unmet need, 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 social skills programming. At that time, autism affected 1 in every 2,500 children. Our program served seven children once a week in a donated park district space over an ice rink. Today, the prevalence of ASD is 1 in 54 children.  Today, Have Dreams serves children, teens and adults with ASD and their families, through lifespan programs and services at our facilities in Park Ridge and Evanston.


The sweet faces in the photo above are of some of the first participants who started at Have Dreams in 1996.  In the over 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.

  • Today, Have Dreams provides lifespan programs to children, teens and adults from Chicago and many of the surrounding suburban communities.
  • In 2007, Have Dreams began the Wee Dream program for children age 16 months to five years old to help build the skills needed for school.​​
  • Have Dreams offers four different programs for adults ages 18 and up, providing critical independent living skills, job training and career coaching.
  • Over the past several years, Have Dreams has trained over 7,000 educators, parents and professionals in best practice autism methods.

Thanks to you – our community of parents, families, participants, volunteers, donors and staff – for helping to make Have Dreams’ accomplishments possible. You are part of our remarkable journey and we look forward to our continued growth as an organization and service provider with our supportive community by our side.

Recognition & Achievements

  • Over the past several years, we’ve trained over 7,000 educators
  • Three replication sites, BOOST!, launched in Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island
  • Selected in 2012 as the first Project SEARCH site in Illinois; we are proud that our host employer is Northwestern University
  • Research related to our trainings has been selected eight times for presentation at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) and the British Psychological Society
  • On-site Walgreens Retail Training Center
  • 100% of our Have Dreams Academy Workforce Training graduates who were seeking jobs have been hired for competitive employment.