BLOOMINGDALE - For several years, there has been little room, but high demand to seat students with autism spectrum disorders at Bay Life Academy in Seffner.
This year, Founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Pello took what he called a bold but cautious step to open a school just for those students.
Livingstone Academy Autism Center opens for class Aug. 20, just south of Bloomingdale High School. It has room for about 35 students and most seats are already filled, but several openings remain. Registration runs through Aug. 1.
Bay Life Academy, which will officially changes its name this school year to Livingstone Academy-Seffner, and Livingstone Academy-Riverview, will both still accept students with learning disabilities and those on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, such as students diagnosed with Asperger's.
The new school, which will include Applied Behavioral Analysis - a widely accepted treatment regiment for people with autism - speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, will also house a sensory gymnasium to offer specific equipment for the children the school will serve.
Kristin Seltzer, who has served as executive director of education for both Bay Life Academy in Seffner and Livingstone Academy in Riverview, will head the new school.
"We needed more space and more specialization," Seltzer said. "And we wanted to build a center with a sensory gym." Students on the autism spectrum have unique sensory needs, she said. Some like jumping and spinning or other stimulation while others might want to squeeze balls, feel the comfort of being wrapped in a blanket or crawl through narrow spaces. The new gym will provide that, she said.
Seltzer said she is hoping that if all goes as planned this year, she can add to the four classrooms, expanding it by two or more next school year. "We want to grow, but cautiously," she said.
As for tuition, the new school will accept McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities, available through the state for special needs students The McKay scholarship allows students with special needs to attend participating private schools.
To learn more, call Bay Life Academy at (813) 661-4200.