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New school opening in Barrie for children with autism the first-of-its-kind in region


A private school specializing in supporting children on the autism spectrum is expanding operations with a new facility in central Barrie, and becoming the only school of its kind in northern Ontario.

"We provide customized education plans; we cater specifically to autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, various learning challenges or delays," explained IBI Behavioural Services Owner and Director Amanda Baysarowich.

The IBI Private Academy currently works with about 40 full-time students, which will double in January when it moves to its new Cedar Pointe Drive location.

Baysarowich mentioned the government's cuts to funding for families with children on the spectrum prompted a greater need for this type of facility in the community.

"Ideally, our goal is to bridge the gap between the regular school system and what we can offer, which is a leading-edge level of education when it comes to neurodiversity," Baysarowich explained.

The academy will also have a new name, Unique Minds Academy.

"Unique Minds Academy is a place where excellence meets education, unlocking our students' full potential from within. We believe every child has a journey, and together we can help them write their own story and success," IBI Behavioural Services posted on social media.

IBI Private Academy in Barrie, Ont. (CTV News/Rob Cooper)

Baysarowich said the name change will encompass all neurodiverse students and provide inclusivity in a neuro-affirming environment.

"While the name is changing, the standards remain high," she added.

The new 12,000-square-foot facility will have state-of-the-art equipment, a sensory room, customized seating to accommodate learners, a library space, an outdoor play space, and specialized programming.

Catherine Epken-House's two children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder attended the public school system, but after finding they couldn't offer the support they needed, she enrolled them with the IBI academy and says it has made all the difference.

"It is 100 per cent helping him in his growth, and his advocacy for his own regulation, and also in his communication," she said.

Families drive from across Simcoe County and Muskoka so their children can attend the academy. Baysarowich said she's even had families move from outside the province to attend the school.

Jessica Knowles' nine-year-old son Elliott has been with the centre for six years.

"When Elliott started, he was completely non-verbal. Now he's excelling above his grade level for his age," the Barrie mom said.

The Unique Minds Academy will move into the former MPAC building at 65 Cedar Pointe Drive in Barrie in the new year. Tuition costs $2,250 per month per child for a full-time spot. Financial funding is available for those who qualify.

The academy is Ministry of Education licenced and accredited.

With files from CTV's Rob Cooper Top Stories

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