by Deborah Wheeler

This is one of the therapy rooms at South Walton Academy. SPECIAL TO THE SUN
This is one of the therapy rooms at South Walton Academy. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A new school has opened in South Walton on Mack Bayou Road to meet the needs of exceptional children.

The South Walton Academy, a private nonprofit school, opened Jan. 16. It currently serves 3-year-olds through grade 6.

“We decided to open to help fill a need, specifically for kids with autism,” said Calley Middlebrooks, the school’s founding director. “We have many children who are very intelligent but they have sensory difficulties. Autism is not always diagnosed. The kids get bad grades in school, but the problem is they just aren’t able to express themselves.”

Middlebrooks has worked as a developmental therapist since 2006 and also is an Early Intervention Therapist for Florida’s Early Steps Program. But it wasn’t until she had a child who was diagnosed with autism that she got an entirely new perspective on the issue.

Her son was non-verbal until age 3 and diagnosed at age 4.

“He is completely verbal now,” she said.

Calley Middlebrooks talks to her students. SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Calley Middlebrooks talks to her students. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Functional communication is one of the tools she uses to help bridge the gap between children with autism and communication.

As a professional helping families and as a mother seeking services for her son, Middlebrooks has seen the challenges the community faced with the lack of services available, specifically for those with autism. One thing she saw over and over was that families need support.

“Children with autism and who are on the autism spectrum need therapy and an educational system with a curriculum specifically designed to meet the needs of individual abilities,” she said.

Middlebrooks also has watched her daughter struggle with common core curriculum and become stuck with busy work because she completed the entire day’s work too soon.

“She needed more of a challenge and was ready to advance sooner than other children in her class. I understand the importance of an individualized curriculum to help all children be successful,” she said.

Middlebrooks founded South Walton Academy to create a broad range of individualized educational and therapeutic opportunities not only for children with autism and related disabilities, but also advanced developing children.

South Walton Academy was founded for children with special needs. SPECIAL TO THE SUN
South Walton Academy was founded for children with special needs. SPECIAL TO THE SUN

“By providing guided instruction in the areas of behavior, social skills and communication, our goal is to maximize the potential of all children with a special focus in the area of autism and other related developmental disabilities such as, but not limited to ADD and ADHD,” she said. “We have therapists on site who work with teachers as needed to help achieve individualized education plans.”

The academy offers a range of educational and therapeutic options from full time, part time, hourly, one-on-one and group therapies year around. There also is group classroom instruction, speech therapy, occupational therapy, developmental therapy and individual verbal behavior therapy using integrated listening systems.

“By providing instruction in the areas of behavior, social skills, communication and education, we maximize the potential of each child allowing them to learn at their own pace while they are being guided to help reach their highest potential,” Middlebrooks said. “We want to help bridge the gap between communication and children with autism.”

For more information visit www.southwaltonacademy.com.