When Cassandra Mesnick’s son was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS) at age four, she sought to find him the best therapies and educational opportunities available. Now seven years old and diagnosed with autism, Cassandra has taken matters into her own hands by spearheading the opening of Eden of Ocala, a non-profit school that provides intensive instruction to children with neuro-developmental and other related disorders.
“My struggles with finding my son the best learning opportunities available is what led me to open this school,” Cassandra says. “I searched the country for concepts and ideas, but with two other children in middle school, relocating was out of the question. Besides, I have this feeling there is something bigger here. Why shouldn’t Marion County’s children have access to the same successful teaching modalities that other towns and cities across America have?”
Eden of Ocala, located in the Lively House, the former Grace Episcopal Kindegarten School, is a day school for pre-K through elementary-level children.They offer a multi-disciplined, individualized approach that incorporates DIR/Floortime, Applied Behavior Analysis, and Sensory Integration to improve children’s motor planning, social, and academic skills.
At Eden of Ocala, children are grouped by developmental stages.
“Sensory Profiles taken on each student and sensory diets are used throughout the school day,” Cassandra says. “Many children with developmental disorders are sensitive to sensory stimulation, including touch, sound, and movement. The goal of sensory integration therapy is to improve the ability of the brain to process all sensory information efficiently so that the student will function better in their daily activities, including classroom learning.”
Academic goals are also supported by Applied Behavior Analysis, which encourages positive behavior through modeling, prompting, shaping, and rewarding. Goals are broken down into objectives and then into smaller tasks.With the use of Applied Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior, data on each student’s progress is collected daily allowing staff to make dynamic changes to a student’s learning environment that permit maximum opportunity for success.
“One component I especially like about Applied Behavior Analysis is something called Errorless Learning,” Cassandra shares. “It allows students many opportunities to be successful, and I believe success begets success.”
When parents visit Eden of Ocala, they may be surprised by what they see. Learning environments combine movement, sensory integration, and academics.
“We can easily move from a sensory integration activity to an academic learning task, depending on the needs of the student,” Cassandra says.
Cassandra understands that one of the biggest struggles parents face is time management. Between school, therapy sessions, and doctor appointments, the task can be a bit overwhelming, especially when other children are involved.
“At Eden of Ocala, speech, occupation, and behavioral therapy goals will be combined with daily curriculum and under the supervision of a licensed therapist,” Cassandra says. “This will eliminate the parent’s need to schedule these appointments outside of school and allow for more down time and a sense of normalcy at home.”
Already enrolling students, Eden of Ocala will accept the McKay Scholarship, have extended day, and offer a VPK program.
“What I have found to be most helpful in my journey is to seek the advise of as many professionals and other parents as possible, weigh that advice in regards to what I see in my own child, and then set out to find a school that offers what my child needs,” Cassandra says. “That is what I have done and my journey has led me to Eden of Ocala.”
Eden of Ocala Fundraiser
4 Person Golf Scramble with prizes and a silent auction
May 30, 2009
Golden Hills Country Club, Ocala
Sponsorship opportunities available