Special needs school opens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 6, 2015

Discovery Cottage Director Lyn Lacey, left, works with 7-year-old Colin Jackson, who is autistic. Jackson is listening to Mozart’s music through his headphones as a part of a therapy program in LaGrange. Music helps stimulate parts of the brain, Lacey said.

Families are encouraged to participate in sessions at the Discovery Cottage in LaGrange with their children. The ‘great room,’ pictured, is used for physical and mental development. Teachers use games, songs and activities to engage and stimulate the children.

The classrooms have tools to stimulate children. The students sit on balls to help their core strength and focus on the task at hand.

From the outside, the Discovery Cottage looks like a quiet, quaint, country home just tucked among a grove of trees off Hamilton Road on the Lafayette Christian School campus.

The building lives up to its name, not just from the exterior decor, but the interior design as well, which is used to captivate the minds of children who have learning differences and developmental delays.

On Monday, the school, officially opened its doors and welcomed in its first students for their summer “Brain Booster” camp.

“It is a great opportunity for families to sample what programs we will have when we have full sessions in the Fall,” said Lyn Lacey, director of Discovery Cottage. “They can see if it will be a fit for their child.”

The center is an expansion of Lafayette Christian School’s comprehensive program. Lacey was a teacher at LCS and also specializes in teaching children with special needs.

She said instead of strictly focusing on academics, the school will use “brain-based” programs, including Lindamood-Bell, Integrated Listening systems (ILS) and Neural Network, therapy programs which strengthens sensory and cognitive abilities, plus social and communications skills.

For instance, children have prayer time and share time. In the morning, they also have “creeping and crawling” time.

“It helps organize the mid brain in sequencing, organizing and follow through,” Lacey explained. “It will help children follow through on a series of events in their everyday life.”

These programs have been used in schools for more than 50 years, but have never before been offered in Troup County.

Discovery Cottage is designed as a home environment for good reason: it is also helping the children feel comfortable enough to learn and perform basic, everyday skills, like sitting at a table and using the restroom. Everything inside the building has been designed with children in mind, he said, down to the paint on the wall, which was researched and chosen because it is best suited for autistic children.

Dale Jackson is one of the co-creators and finance chairman of Discovery Cottage. His son, Colin, 7, who is autistic, is a student there.

“To have the expertise, knowledge and tools available for my son and other children who need it … is overwhelming and exciting at the same time,” said Jackson. “To have it all under one roof … and to see it positively affect so many children is overwhelming.”

LCS headmaster John Cipolla and Jackson started putting together a plan for the specialized school for special-needs students 3 years ago after they discovered the challenges children and families face in other school systems due to state and federal budget restrictions.

Now the dream is finally a reality.

“For years I have had this vision in my head of what it (the school) would look like, but words can not describe the emotions that came over me today,” Jackson said. “It was amazing enough to see my own ‪’little buddy’ working with the staff and the ‪ILS‬ system but then to also see the other students there as well was just a little overwhelming …

“The past 7 years have certainly been filled with very difficult situations, extreme low points and many questions of ‘why’… but today, one of those questions of was answered, “Jackson said. “I saw first hand how God was using my son’s autism to not only help my son but others in the community and who knows how many more in the future.”

“I’m very excited … for this to happen so quickly,” Lacey said. “I’m so happy to share these programs with families. They’re excited and we are too … it’s such a need in this area. We are so blessed to do this.”

For the first year, Discovery Cottage will only take 10 students in the elementary school age range, but Lacey and Jackson hope to increase that number each school year.

For more information on Discovery Cottage, call 706-884-6684.