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Student Spotlight: Chris -- From the ER to Successful Student

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Chris Pope was diagnosed with autism as a child and needed a school where teachers understood how to help him with communications, social and behavioral struggles. After a traumatic experience in public school where he was so unsafe that he ended up in the emergency room, Chris came to Connections. Read his story to see how he has grown into a student who can self-regulate, communicate, and participate with fellow students and family.

In Search of a Better Life for Chris

Chris Pope was diagnosed with autism as a child; in his teens, he and his family moved from Connecticut to Florida in search of a better life for him. “We thought he’d do so much better being able to go outdoors all year long and finding an autism community where he could connect,” says his mom Laura Pope.

When the private school where they’d planned for him to go didn’t have space for Chris at the last moment, he had to attend a public specialty school designed for children with any disability that neighborhood schools couldn’t handle. “It was a disaster. They didn’t understand him or know how to communicate with him,” Laura recounts. “He became increasingly frustrated and his behaviors escalated. The third week, he ended up in the ER after banging his head on the floor out of frustration.”

The Popes struggled through the year and felt like they were on pins and needles every school day waiting for that call and wondering if their son was ok. “We even hired a behavioral therapist to go with him to school -- just to keep him safe,” says Laura.

Captivated by a Calm, Supportive Approach

Through persistent research, Laura learned about Connections and scheduled a tour. “The minute I walked in the door, I knew this was where Chris needed to be. I watched how the staff interacted with other students in such a calm, supportive way. They understood these children and knew how to take care of them. It seemed instinctual,” she says. “It felt like a home and a family.”

“Chris is very sensitive to transition and change so the first year at Connections took time for the staff to learn how to work with him and to let him figure things out,” recalls Laura. “We had some moments, but they didn’t give up or say he’s too much,” Laura recalls.

Instead, the school collaborated with Laura and her husband to put together a plan that worked best for Chris. Soon, he was making solid progress, but then the pandemic hit. Like so many other students, Chris did not thrive in digital school.

When the time came to return to school, Laura and his teachers wondered how he would handle yet another transition. To everyone’s delight, Chris managed it well. “He was so happy to go back,” says Laura.

Life-Changing Progress

Chris has made incredible progress at Connections. “They have taught him how to recognize and ask for what he needs,” explains Laura. She says he has learned to self-regulate -- a huge step for any student, but especially those with autism -- eliminating problematic behaviors.

“Connections didn’t just change his life; they changed our entire family dynamic. You don’t get this level of understanding and all-encompassing compassion at other schools.” -- Laura Pope, Chris' Mom

“He has grown so much thanks to Connections. At home, he’s much more self-sufficient than before, takes initiative to do things and is much more present,” says Laura.

Teachers at Connections have also seen his remarkable progress. They note:

  • He has learned to wait, to participate in groups and to remain involved throughout a project.

  • His language has increased significantly.

  • He has become flexible enough to interact with different students and teachers in different classrooms without becoming anxious.

  • Chris is confident enough to venture out of his “safe zone.”

According to Laura, “Connections didn’t just change his life; they changed our entire family dynamic. You don’t get this level of understanding and all-encompassing compassion at other schools.”


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