IATB School History

Invictus Academy Tampa Bay started as a dream of Dana Johnson, an occupational therapist who worked with school-aged children in the Tampa Bay area. Dana quickly learned that many of her clients were not provided the support they needed in a typical educational setting. The students needed a more individualized approach that included building solid relationships with teachers and peers and a flexible approach to academics.

Many of these students had motor and sensory differences that made it difficult for them to communicate and move their bodies in order to do the things they wanted to do, including academics and other school activities. Invictus Academy was born and started with a total of 6 students working out of Dana’s clinic each day. She focused on developing strong relationships, delivering individualized curriculum based on the students’ needs, and ensuring that families were supported also. Our school quickly grew to be large enough that we needed to move locations as we were bursting at the seams! 

We grew from two classes to four classes and started to build our high school curriculum. Around that same time, Dana was also introduced to a form of assistive technology that teaches spelling as a form of communication, which effectively supports individuals with motor and sensory differences including autism.

Students learned purposeful motor skills in order to point to letters, allowing them to spell what they wanted to say. Communication through spelling or typing became a more reliable and authentic form of communication than what was available for non-speaking or minimally speaking students at that time. As their motor skills improve, an individual moves from pointing to letters on a letter board to spelling on a keyboard. Their communication also moves from more concrete concepts to abstract ideas as their motor skills improve.

With our students being able to communicate through spelling, many things changed about our school. Building relationships was still of high importance, but our focus was now on supporting purposeful motor skills and reliable communication. Most importantly, we started to presume intellectual competence in ALL of our students no matter what information we were told about their “cognitive abilities.” We soon found out that they knew MUCH more than they were able to tell us.

As we learned more about our students and their needs, we worked hard to build their motor skills for not only communication, but success in their day to day activities. We learned that they needed academically appropriate material in order to support their regulation in the classroom and beyond. We also learned that our students had specific goals for their future, college and beyond, so we were now determined to help each of them reach their dreams.

In January 2019, we officially became Invictus Academy Tampa Bay. Our students chose this name as it means “undefeated.”  Even though our students have faced great adversity in their lives, they keep working towards and fighting for their dreams. They truly are undefeated.  They are Invcitus.

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