Autism: The Cartoon

Colleen McFarland

One of Ivy Street School's specialties is Autism Services, helping students with autism spectrum disorder to enhance their executive functioning, social, and communication skills in addition to academics.

In this cartoon series, Ivy Street School graduate Colleen takes a look at life through the lens of someone growing up with autism, giving an honest, first-hand depiction of her experiences, including the highs, the lows, and everything in between.

About the artist: Colleen McFarland is a 2012 graduate of Ivy Street School. She is a twenty-three year old artist from Norwood, Massachusetts. She loves to watch movies and Broadway musicals as well as read books. She currently lives at home with her parents and has two older siblings. Her dream is to one day be a professional artist in New York.



Colleen McFarland's cartoon about autism and church

Text: "Having autism makes me wired differently. Church has always been a challenging place for me because I often felt anxious and squirmy and I had to follow the social rules of church.

"My mom and dad felt it was important to be connected to God. I was just there because my family was there. But I am not an atheist; far from it in fact, but because I was a squirmy, anxious child, who would be trying to climb all over the place or wanting to do a 'tap dance' on top of the pew, or even make a lot of noise. Much to my mom's dismay--the other people in the pews would give her dirty looks as if to say "What is wrong with your child?!" After we realized I had autism, it was much easier to understand why I have trouble in church, it got a bit better but it was still hard.

"After I made my confirmation when I was fifteen I suppose I was free to decide whatever religious path I wanted to take. So I chose to have a 'Broadway God' because the only time I feel connected to any type of God is when I'm doing something Broadway related. My 'Broadway God' lets people of all sexual preferences and animals go to heaven. Many people would call this blasphemy--but it's who I am."

Colleen McFarland's cartoon about autism and swimming

Our Students

The Ivy Street School serves students ages 13 to 22 who have a variety of learning challenges and behavioral health diagnoses. Our goal is to help students develop self-management and executive functioning skills so that they can lead full lives as adults. Located in a beautiful residential neighborhood, we have all the resources and attractions of the City of Boston in our back yard. Much of our learning takes place in the community and our small size makes it possible for us to incorporate innovative hands-on experiences into all aspects of day and residential school life.

Brain Injury Programming

Supporting students with brain injuries has been the mission of the Ivy Street School since its founding in 1993. While we now serve students with a diverse range of diagnoses and challenges, brain injury and other neurological challenges continue to be a core area of our expertise. Our services includes:

  • Compensatory strategies and executive functioning
  • Language and communication challenges
  • Restorative therapies and adaptive technology for mobility, memory, or learning challenges
  • Fostering self-management skills and decision-making
  • Hands-on vocational training
  • Transition planning and readiness

For each of our students, we develop an individualized program specific to that student’s needs. We pride ourselves on being able to personalize treatment. Our small size and low student-to-staff staff ratio create many opportunities for individualized attention.

For a family adapting to life with brain injury or neurological diagnosis, the Ivy Street School in Brookline is often the first place they find a peer group and a community.

Our staff includes Certified Brain Injury Specialists (CBIS) and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). We also partner with the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts to provide workshops on pediatric brain injury education topics for our staff and the provider community.

Transition Programming

Planning for the transition to adulthood is a major focus for all students at the Ivy Street School. Vocational programming and other transition plans are integrated throughout our curriculum; students work with vocational counselors to discover and acquire their first jobs. We partner with Stop and Shop, Panera, Good News Garage, MIT, and a number of other employers to provide vocational opportunities for our students. All students participate in community independence training and skills groups led by occupational therapists.

Our Transition Program (pdf) is a highly regarded program operating within the Ivy Street School specifically targeted to students ages 17 to 22 who have completed their academic requirements and have the support of their school districts for an additional year or more of transition-focused planning. We support students as they begin their next phase of life. Our transition program students attend college, work real jobs in the community and work with our professional staff on life skills including public transportation, apartment-living, banking, cooking and other necessary skills for their transition to young adulthood.

We also offer a two-week off-campus summer residential program that immerses students in the experience of community living.

Please enjoy this video of students talking about their personal experiences with our transition program:

Behavioral Therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis

The Ivy Street School offers a safe, positive environment for students with a history of trauma, anxiety, mental illness, or other behavioral health challenges.

Our therapeutic expertise includes dialectical behavior therapy, trauma informed care, pet-assisted therapy, expressive arts therapy, and music therapy. Each student participates in both individual and group therapy. Our clinical and nursing teams work closely with families and trusted outside clinicians to manage care and we have an on-staff Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who provides regular consultation. We are also only a ten-minute drive from Children's Hospital Boston, providing a continuum of care for students who see providers there.

Some of our students benefit from the additional services of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Behavior Therapy the BCBA supports increasing positive behaviors across settings. Our Board Certified Behavioral Analyst develops and implements specific programs targeting behaviors on an individual basis as well as managing our school-wide system of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

View the Ivy Street School PBIS brochure.

We have a strong, involved family support network with a family support group and a parent advisory committee that meet monthly. Families are also invited to work with members of our social work team to learn new strategies for supporting their child at Ivy Street and beyond.


Contact Us

Ivy Street School
200 Ivy Street
Brookline, MA 02446
  • For admissions inquiries and to schedule a tour,
    call Tunzel Hayes at 617-620-7779
  • To reach our front desk, call 617-738-5110
  • Fax 617-738-1247

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