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Student Spotlight: Gabe’s Incredible Progress Opens the Door to Mainstream High School

Updated: Mar 22

“Your son is ready for mainstream school.” That’s the incredible news that Gabe's parents recently received from teachers at Connections, where Gabe is a middle schooler preparing to transition to a mainstream high school. "This school has been amazing for Gabe," says his proud father, Wil.

This celebratory moment is a long way from where Gabe started.

Gabe’s schooling began at his local elementary school for Kindergarten, but Gabe's autism-related behaviors and outbursts caused many disruptions in the classroom and prevented Gabe from learning. Wil recalls almost daily calls from teachers who did not know how to meet Gabe's needs. The family soon realized that Gabe would need to change schools.

His family found a nearby school that specialized in autism, and Gabe did well there until he aged out after 2nd grade. His family could see that Gabe was capable of learning and achieving so much -- in the right environment -- and they felt a lot of stress as they searched for his next school. 

When a family friend recommended Connections, Gabe’s family toured and could see that it was an excellent fit. They applied through the lottery enrollment system and were elated when he got one of the few open spots. He began Connections as a 3rd grader.

Thriving in the Right Environment

At Connections, Gabe’s teachers recognized how much he appreciated a predictable schedule and took note of his affinity for all things nonfiction. They set up systems to leverage his specific learning style and infused behavioral therapy techniques throughout his day, enabling him to thrive. “The teachers have done amazing things with Gabe, and he’s come a long way,” says Wil. “They’ve helped him learn to self-regulate and to interact appropriately with classmates. He prefers to interact with younger students and adults, but he’s making progress on connecting with people his own age.”

All As in Academics

Gabe loves to learn and is an avid reader. He seeks out books about the solar system, the periodic table, rocks, dinosaurs and other nonfiction topics. The way he retains information from books has impressed his family and teachers. Wil says, “One day his class was learning about Saturn, and Gabe immediately began telling them how many moons Saturn has, how many rings, what the rings are made of and all sort of other interesting facts he had read.” 

He also enjoys math and is good about keeping up with homework. “He’s always wanting to learn and gets all As,” Wil adds.

Flourishing in Culinary Classes & More

Beyond academics, Gabe has thrived in culinary class where he has learned to handle a kitchen knife safely, use the stove safely and cook a variety of meals. “He likes to help me in the kitchen. He’ll come up with meal plans, help me pick ingredients, cut vegetables and even make dishes like baked ziti,” says his dad. “He also helps around the house with other chores like feeding the dogs and cleaning the house or cutting the grass. He loves to be helpful, which is something he has developed while attending Connections.”

Expanding His Abilities in Extracurriculars

Gabe also loves playing the guitar, which he took up about two years ago. “He practices daily without me asking and takes a lesson each week. He has a good ear for music and has learned to read music,” adds Wil. “Recently, he played his guitar at a recital in front of 80 people and was cool as a cucumber.”

He tried several recreational sports but they weren’t a good fit, especially those that require a lot of peer interaction. When he discovered martial arts though, he found his sport. He’s now preparing for his black belt test in Muay Thai and has worked his way up to an orange-white belt in Jiu-Jitsu. 

Gabe is also a competent swimmer, something his family prioritized from early on. “I’m a retired police officer and used to get calls when kids with autism went missing. We had seen that these kids are drawn to water, so we always checked local lakes and canals first,” he recalls. “When we realized that Gabe had autism, we prioritized teaching him how to get to float and how to get to the edge of the pool and get out of the water -- even before he could walk.”

Gabe’s swim skills have done much more than give his immediate family peace of mind. They’ve also enabled him to save a life. 

A few years ago, extended family was visiting Gabe’s home and enjoying time in the pool. At one point, the kids were sitting next to the pool as the adults went inside briefly. Gabe’s dad had asked him to keep an eye on everyone. A younger boy leaned over the edge of the pool to retrieve something, and fell in. He couldn’t fully swim. 

In an instant, Gabe jumped in and pulled the younger boy out of the water. “He saved his life,” says Wil. “It was amazing.”

A Clear Vision for His Future

As Gabe gets ready to begin high school, he has a clear vision for his future. “He wants to go to college and become an illustrator,” says Wil. “He already illustrates and has even created a YouTube channel to share his work. Whatever Gabe does, he gives 100 percent. I have confidence that he will accomplish whatever he sets his mind on.”

His proud dad is amazed by Gabe’s progress and beams with pride for his son. “He’s a very respectful student and is kind to others. He gets along well with his older sister and takes her advice on facial care, attire and more,” Wil says. “Connections has been amazing for him and I’m so grateful for his time here.”


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