Emerald Coast Autism Center Celebrates 10 Years!

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By Rita L. Sherwood

What happens when a mom of a five year old with autism and a Special Education Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapist put their heads together?

They create a local, non-profit school and therapy center for autistic kids, the Emerald Coast Autism Center, (ECAC) right here in Niceville.

When asked why they developed and opened the center, Heidi Blalock says, “There were not enough quality services available for my child back in 2009, no full-time solution to help us.” She goes on to say, “The longest increments of therapy lasted about two hours, and we saw such a difference, that we thought all day therapy might work better.”

What started off in a church, then moved to a strip mall, and finally after a capital campaign to raise funds, ECAC became the beneficiary of the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation. Heidi and Staci Berryman were able to open their own facility on the Northwest Florida State College campus, 2½ years ago.

Fast-forward 10 years; ECAC has helped a tremendous number of children and their families. They not only treat the child with autism, but treat the family as well. They must be doing something right, for families who have children with autism are moving to Niceville to get help, especially military families.

Applied Behavior Analysis is the only proven intervention for children with autism, which is a wide-spectrum disorder (meaning that no autistic child is the same). ECAC’s goal is to provide intensive therapy to kids as young as possible to provide tools to integrate them back into school, while also working with their families. ABA ensures that every child works one-on-one with his own therapist on a daily basis. They treat children ages 2-19, and no day is typical. Therapy is individualized for that specific child, working on language, behavioral, and social issues. Heidi says, “Consistency is key here, and we work with the parents closely to make sure everyone is following the same protocols.” Currently, ECAC is working with 90 families in the local area, and employs more than 70 therapists.

ABA is medically based, and insurance often covers it. In the state of Florida, many families can also apply for a voucher program through the Department of Education called the McKay Scholarship.

And how can you help this fantastic organization that has helped so many kids and their families in our area? Come check out the Summer Jam 2019 on July 13th at the Emerald Coast Convention Center. Edwin Watts, a member of the Mulligans along with the other band members are hosting the event and will be playing live music. 100% of the proceeds raised will benefit ECAC. They’re looking for VIP Sponsors to purchase tables for $450, which includes preferred VIP seating for 10, and your business logo will be projected on the Emerald Coast Convention Center screen throughout the evening.

If interested, please contact Lauren Cooper, Community Relations Coordinator, at (850) 279-3000, or at communityrelations@ecautismcenter.org.

It’s time to give back to a local organization that has given us so much! See you on July 13!