On a typical Monday morning at an atypical high school, teenage boys yanked open the glass doors to the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga. Half-awake, iPod wires curling from their ears, their backpacks unbuckled and their jeans baggy, the guys headed for the elevator. Arriving at Morning Meeting in the third-floor conference room, Stephen, his face hidden under long black bangs, dropped into a chair, sprawled across the table and went back to sleep. The Community School, or T.C.S., is a small private school for teenage boys with autism or related disorders. Sleep disturbances are common in this student body of 10, so a boy’s staggering need for sleep is respected. Nick Boswell, a tall fellow with thick sideburns, arrived and began his usual pacing along the windows that overlook the church parking lot and baseball diamond. Edwick, with spiky brown hair and a few black whiskers, tumbled backward with a splat into a beanbag chair on the floor.
“O.K., guys, let’s talk about your spring schedules,” said Dave Nelson, the 45-year-old founding director. He wore a green polo shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers and had a buzz haircut and an open, suntanned face. After his son Graham, 19, was given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (A.S.D.) as a young child, Nelson left the business world and went into teaching and clinical and counseling work. On that Monday, he was instantly interrupted.
“I had a very bad night!” Edwick yelled from the floor. “Nightmares all night!”