On the Spectrum

Crystal Academy is a Haven for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Lizzie Wilcox

April 2020

April is Autism Awareness Month, so we are bringing awareness to one institution that is making a difference for children on the spectrum and their families: Crystal Academy. “Crystal Academy is a holistic therapy center and school, whose mission is how to work with our kids in an individualized manner within a group setting,” says founder Mary Palacio-Pike. She created the center 10 years ago with her husband David. They started Crystal Academy because their oldest son, also named David, was diagnosed with autism as a baby.

According to the CDC, 1 in 59 children are being diagnosed with autism. That number has drastically gone up since their son was diagnosed 17 years ago. Back then, 1 in 166 children were deemed to be on the spectrum. Whether there are more cases now than ever before, or if there is simply better detection, is a question that no one has answered yet. However, research now lets us recognize signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder as early as 16-months-old.

The therapy center and school, located in the North Gables on Antilla Avenue, is comprised of classrooms, a music therapy room, a gymnastics room, and a language center (not part of tuition).

Mary Palacio-Pike, founder of Crystal Academy

Their relaxation and calming (RAC) room was made possible through a grant from the Coral Gables Community Foundation. Back in 2018, the school was invited to the opening of the Umbrella Sky exhibition on Giralda Plaza. The RAC room, with padded walls and bean bag chairs, has four of the umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Palacio-Pike purchased them when the exhibition was being taken down, as a way to thank the foundation.

Every child at the school has an individualized plan and works one-on-one with a therapist. If a student had previously been working with therapists of their own (speech, behavioral, etc.), Crystal Academy will accommodate them. “Because we understand how parents feel, we always welcome therapists from other places to come here and treat the child that we have here,” Palacio-Pike says.

On the school side, they welcome all school-aged children – even PreK-4 students – depending on the situation. On the therapy side, they work with children as young as 18 months. “Early intervention is key for children in the spectrum,” Palacio-Pike says. “You don’t want to lose those years and then start from a base that has nothing at 4- or 5-years-old.”

Some stay at Crystal Academy all through high school, while some eventually go to another school, namely The Biltmore School. “We recommend The Biltmore School because they have a program that might be the transitional program that they [the children] need,” says Palacio-Pike.

Back at the Crystal Academy, occupational and behavioral therapists work with children to improve things like eye contact, bodily awareness and social interaction. Says Palacio-Pike, “Once you have a child on the spectrum, you realize all the things we take for granted.”

Other Resources:

University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities

A state-funded, university-based outreach and support center dedicated to helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities like sensory impairments, UMCARD provides individualized client and family support, family and professional training, public education and awareness, and community outreach. They work with both children and adults.
5665 Ponce de Leon Blvd. 2nd floor, 1.800.9.AUTISM

Acorn Health

Acorn Health is moving autism therapy forward in its new center above Publix on Douglas. Using Applied Behavior Analysis, they work with children starting at 18-months-old. Each child is treated by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst and has an individualized plan. 1500 Douglas Rd. Suite 230, 844.244.1818