“My son, Carson was diagnosed with Autism right before his second Birthday. At that time we had a lot of questions and a lot of worries. One question that would always come up was school. Would he be able to go to school? What would school for him look like? Would it be Public? Private? It was overwhelming to say the least.
Last August Carson started Kindergarten in a more traditional setting. It started out great and I thought, “he can do this”. Then a couple months in, as more was being asked of him, the more problems he was having. Meltdowns, struggling academically, Not interacting at school or at home and hiding under tables because that was the only way he knew to cope. He was shutting down and, as a Mom, my heart was breaking.
Then we found Interplay Learning Academy. Carson started in January and the improvement I and others have seen in Carson has been amazing. Dana and Joleen are able to see him in a daily basis and help him maneuver through situations as they arise which has been a critical component to Carson making the strides that he has. They focus not only on academics but on sensory and social. They treat Carson as an individual with individual needs. He is happier. We see less meltdowns and he has made huge strides in his communication and social skills.
I am so grateful for Interplay Learning Academy. They aren’t just helping Carson. They have helped our whole family. Thanks to all of the staff at Interplay!! You are the best and I don’t know where we would be without you.”
“We have been a patient of Dana Johnson and Joleen Fernald for over a year and a half, collectively. We began the OT journey with Dana’s team in March 2015. We have seen some amazing growth in Jake and his ability to recognize when he is not regulated, and he now knows what he needs to do to calm his body and himself down. Not only is Jake able to recognize it now, we, his family, is as well. His ability to perform functional play now, is outstanding.
Since November, 2015, we have been working with Joleen Fernald in the area of Speech. Since November, we have seen amazing growth his Jake’s ability to verbalized his needs and wants. He is also beginning two way conversation.
The amazing therapists at this practice have given so much to Jake and all of us, in regards to learning techniques and suggestions of how to maintain what they are giving him at therapy, so that we can replicate it at home.
As summer approached, we were clueless as to what we were going to do for Jake, to ensure he could continue momentum over the summer, even when he wasn’t in school. We discussed the possibility of Jake enrolling in the InterPlay Academy, as he could also roll his therapy times into just before school.
It is truly one of the best decisions we have made for Jake in his learning path and journey.
Within ONE WEEK of Jake attending the school full time, he was LISTENING better, and accomplishing 2 step directional tasks. Prior to school, we would have a hard time following our tasks. However, with the encouragement of the InterPlay teachers and therapists, Jake is so much more compliant at home. An example would be his need to dump over all buckets of toys at home. We learned that Joleen and Dana have been very clear with Jake that he has to pick it up, etc. We are replicating it at home, and now he is doing it uninstructed, and even avoiding the ‘dumping of toys’ sensation all together.
I know this sounds like a simple task, however it’s not for Jake. These are HUGE WINS.
He is also GIVING BACK AND FORTH CONVERSATION with his sister (7 years) and my husband and I. We finally feel like we are seeing the most amazing potential in our son.
Here’s the thing…therapy is not a quick fix. But guess what, anything and everything that is actually worth something takes a lot of hard work, dedication, time, and the most amazingly dedicated team of people behind it.
We have found that in the InterPlay staff and Dana Johnson and Joleen Fernald. We are forever grateful to them, and their DIRFloorTime approach. This seems to be the best fit and approach for Jake. We see improvements in him every day. To us, that means everything.
“InterPlay Learning Academy is an amazing school. For us moving a child from one school to another is difficult enough and when you have a child with disabilities it makes it even harder. We found InterPlay Learning Academy through the occupational therapy our son received once a week. At first we were scared and nervous about the change and how our son would react but, Dana L. Johnson and Joleen Fernald along with the team they have built have made the process very easy. They all are amazing people and the love they have for all of the children is just awesome. Our son has flourished since he started at InterPlay Learning Academy and we are so thankful for all they have done for him.”
– Mike and Jackie Peck
Before coming to InterPlay, my son had been in public school, private school, and home school. Even with well-meaning efforts in each setting, the combination of his academic and emotional/social challenges proved intensely frustrating for him and those around him. Bright and hopeful moments were few and far between, and my son often ended up in despair. I cringed every time I saw the school’s number come up on my phone, and I ached to see the toll the struggle was taking on him. He had few close friends and often lashed out at his teachers, his peers, me, and himself.
From the very first week at InterPlay, my son began to relax in a way I had never seen in his school life. He immediately announced it was the best school he’d ever attended. Bedtime anxiety was drastically reduced as he looked forward to the next day without dread. Every area of our family life improved. My son’s social interactions with family members of all ages, as well as friends in other settings, took giant leaps forward. At the first school break, he told me that the only bad part about having a break from school was that he wouldn’t get to go to school. That would not have entered our wildest dreams in his other schools.
I believe what makes the difference is that, at InterPlay, my son knows, in the deepest part of who he is, that he is understood, accepted, and loved, and that the people around him know how to help him in the places where he struggles most. Because he has a background that includes early trauma, it is no small thing for him to feel so safe. As a parent, I’m aware of how that same acceptance and skill from the staff empowers me to be a better mom. Watching the way InterPlay helps him heal and grow is a blessing beyond words.
InterPLAY Learning Academy is a private school that understands the needs of special needs kids and patiently works to lead them to succeed at their own pace. As the parents of two boys ages 8 and 6 on the autism spectrum, and having moved to Florida from the northeast three years ago, we have navigated the public schools, the IEP process, and the search for different kinds of therapies in both New Jersey and Florida. After enrolling our children in Hillsborough County Public Schools we learned over the course of 2 1/2 years that the programs available to us, even those considered the best for special needs children, did not meet our expectations in terms of learning and services that we had hoped for. Fortunately, by doing some online research into occupational therapists in the Tampa area prior to our move, we met Dana Johnson, a founder of InterPLAY. We met with Dana within weeks of our move in July 2013, and we immediately knew that we had found a person who completely understood our boys and their needs. Over time we have developed such a strong respect for Dana’s dedication to her clients as well as her vast knowledge and experienced points of view. We realized that her clinic was one of the few places since moving to Florida, outside of our home, where our children felt at ease to grow. As a result, when InterPLAY was founded we jumped at the opportunity to transfer our oldest son to the academy. Our younger son has attended part time and will transition to full time in August 2016.
InterPLAY has met our expectations and then some! Our children have made incredible progress in a short time – our older son has been given the support he needs to work through emotional and sensory issues that had previously prevented him from being able to function in the public school setting. He now absolutely loves going to school and has made true friendships with other students and his teachers. This is entirely due to the importance InterPLAY puts on helping the student deal with emotional regulation first and foremost. Once that comfort level is established, the academics are presented in an individualized way that works for them. For example: our son struggles with writing, both the mental organization and the fine motor aspect. At InterPLAY, he is allowed the time to regulate himself and do what he requires (drawing, sensory activities, etc.) in order to adjust to being able to approach the difficult task of writing. He is then facilitated by being able to dictate to a teacher who does some of the writing for him. Over time, he has been able to do significantly more of the work on his own, thanks to this supportive environment.
I can’t recommend InterPLAY highly enough. It has truly changed our lives as a family, by giving our boys the opportunity to be themselves and to learn and grow in the ways that are unique to each of them. Their happiness and self confidence has skyrocketed since starting at this school. We are so grateful to Dana, Joleen, and all the teachers at the school for all that they do to help our kids achieve to their highest ability. It is truly a special and unique place!
There are no words to express how grateful we are that InterPlay Academy exists. Entering the public school system 4 years ago, we quickly came to the realization that kids with special needs should ideally attend a school that is therapist centered rather than teacher centered. Therapists are trained to understand how a non typically developing brain functions; thereby having greater insight into how to overcome and work through the challenges these children face. Rather than therapy being inserted into part of the school day, therapy is integrated throughout the entire learning experience. InterPlay is a safe, loving, and understanding environment. We feel so blessed to leave Anna in the hands of therapists and educators who are highly trained In understanding her severe sensory integrations challenges. I believe Anna is in a school where she finally feels understood, which has lead to increased learning and the ability to demonstrate what she has learned. It is truly amazing to watch.
– Anna’s mom