The numbers are growing: official estimates from the Centers for Disease Control stipulate that one in 68 children (ages 3 to 17) in America has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to the most recent data available in 2014.
That number is likely higher, however, due to the limitations of data collection. In 2015, a government survey pegged the number at one in 45, or about two percent of all children in America.
“The one in 45 estimate is not surprising and is likely a more accurate representation of autism prevalence…” according to a response about the study on the Autism Speaks website, www.autismspeaks.org. (Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization).
If that number is realistic, then almost 2,400 children could be affected in Brevard, which has limited resources to help families, caregivers and parents address the many facets of ASD.
Enter James Holz, Esquire, a former Wall Street trader who left the industry after 9/11 to pursue a legal career in Florida. For the past five years, Holz and his wife, Pam, have been putting the puzzle of ASD education, resources and financial support together one piece at a time.
In 2012, Holz and his family needed help for their son, Loki Xavier, who was 6 years old at the time. Diagnosed with ASD, the couple found it difficult to source community, education and programmatic resources for Loki without making it a full time job.
This experience led to the couple’s first priority: to ensure children with ASD have access to early interventional therapy, which is key to the long-term management of the condition. In 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Holz opened Kaleidoscope Interventions in central Melbourne.
“The purpose for opening the Kaleidoscope Interventions (KI) clinic was to provide families with access to a quality therapy that wasn’t available here,” Holz said.
“Therapy can be performed in the child’s home or onsite at our facility on Hibiscus,” he said. (Another clinic is planned to open on Nasa Blvd. this May). The facility offers one- on-one therapy with a registered behavior technician with hands-on therapy and individualized programs as determined by a board certified behavioral analyst. All staff is trained to treat families with empathy and respect.
Along the way, the couple also recognized the public schools in Brevard were not equipped to handle the specific and tailored needs of children with ASD. So, they created an environment where Loki and his peers would thrive and learn at their level.
A New Environment for Learning
Puzzle Box Academy (PBA) was opened in 2016 in Palm Bay to help address the need for quality education for children with ASD and other developmental delays.
“The budget issues facing the public school system profoundly and negatively impact children diagnosed with developmental delays,” Holz noted. “The struggles involve the curriculum, teaching for standardized test results versus knowledge, classroom ratios, and outdated classroom facilities.
“The goal in establishing Puzzle Box Academy was to meet the needs of developmentally-delayed children who could not otherwise be helped within the public school system,” he said.
In 2015, Holz launched the Holz Foundation, a charitable, religious organization that is entirely self-funded and dedicated to funding existing and new therapy clinics and other institutions that advocate for and assist children with developmental delays.
The Holz Foundation is associated with Puzzle Box Academy, Kaleidoscope Interventions, the Holz Center, and Willow School in Orlando. (The Willow School in Orlando meets the needs of higher functioning children on the autism spectrum).
Plans for Expansion West to Kissimmee/Orlando
Holz also talks about spreading their circle of support west to the Kissimmee/Orlando area. “The foundation just acquired the Willow School of Maitland, which is for developmentally delayed children as well. That’s one of our expansions. The other news is we’re building a facility in the Interstate 4/U.S. Highway 192 corridor. Our goal is to build a 20,000 to 25,000-square-foot facility, which will be our second Puzzle Box Academy. The goal is to assist 180 kids with a staff of about 105.”
Holz is in the planning stages now, and there is a lot of permitting, construction and prep work to get that location ready. Holz adds, “Construction itself is roughly 10 months, so it’s really about 13 to 16 months from identification of the land to having the school completely built.” The goal is to buy the land within the next three to six months, and then open the school within two years.
The new facility will take on many of the aspects of multiple facilities in Melbourne, all under one roof. Holz says, “Puzzle Box will be for students as it is now, but they will also be receiving various services through Kaleidoscope Interventions. So what happens is that from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. is pure education; it meets all the requirements as a year-round school open for 46 weeks. And then from roughly 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. is 100 percent therapy.”
This new facility will also house a Holz Center to provide additional services to the community. “I think a Holz Center is going to be incorporated in every expansion,” Holz notes. The Holz Center would help those families not attending the school to coordinate services — a vital aspect of what the foundation stands for.
Holz added, “Awareness without helping [to] educate is pointless, and it is cruel to not help a family when there is a means to do so.”
“The goal in establishing Puzzle Box Academy was to meet the needs of developmentally-delayed children who could not otherwise be helped within the public school system.”– James Holz
Puzzle Box Academy is located at 2180 Julian Ave. NE, Palm Bay
Kaleidoscope Interventions is located at 1855 W. Hibiscus Blvd, Melbourne
The Holz Center is located at
125 E. Nasa Blvd, Melbourne
(in the former location of Southern Photo)