After difficult years at other schools followed by two years of homeschooling, Kylen is happy at Connections where his communications skills and many other abilities are growing!
Kylen is an active 15-year-old boy who was diagnosed with autism early in life. His family tried several schools while looking for a good fit for him, but traditional schools didn’t work. They found Connections and eagerly waited for a spot to open. While on the waitlist, they decided to homeschool Kylen.
“Homeschooling was ok, but he needed to integrate with other kids,” explains his grandmother Zory, who is one of his primary caregivers. She says that Kylen lacked the ability to communicate and, when he was upset, he couldn’t tell his family why, making it very difficult to find solutions.
What a Difference a Year Makes
“Within one year of him starting at Connections, we saw a big difference in his communication skills,” says Zory. “He began talking with family members and other people in ways we could understand and even expressing his feelings. Now if he’s mad about something, he’ll tell me what happened and we can work through it together. If he needs help, he’ll say, “Mama, I need help.’ I love his communication!”
She adds that communication skills are absolutely essential for safety when he’s out in the community, especially as he gets older and gains more independence. “If he’s lost or needs help, he must be able to communicate with others. I’m so grateful he’s learning to do so,” says Zory.
Kylen’s family is bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish at home. Yet, in Kylen’s early school years, Zory was discouraged from speaking Spanish around him. “At a previous school, the principal told us not to speak to him in Spanish because it would confuse him,” says Zory. “At Connections, many of the teachers and staff speak Spanish so he’s free to use either language.” Kylen has demonstrated that he knows the difference between languages, and his family is glad he can use the words that work best for him.
“Within one year of him starting at Connections, we saw a big difference in his communication skills,” says Zory. “He began talking with family members and other people in ways we could understand and even expressing his feelings."
Self-Care Skills Take Shape
Zory has also seen huge improvements in Kylen’s ability to take care of himself, his belongings and his surroundings. She attributes the progress to Connections’ independent-living instruction taught in the apartment-style classroom. “In the mornings, Kylen gets up, changes clothes and comes to the kitchen for breakfast. The other day, he was taking a long time to come to breakfast so I looked in his room to see what was going on. For the first time ever, he was making his bed all by himself. I felt like crying!” recalls Zory.
Kylen has also taken an interest in different foods and cooking, thanks in large part to Connections’ Health & Wellness Program that includes healthy eating and kitchen classes. Zory says that Kylen has learned the names of many ingredients as well as how to measure them for recipes. “At home, we’re cooking together now, and he helps me. I ask him for a cup of milk, for example, and he’s able to pour and measure it for me. It’s a big help!” says Zory.
She’s also grateful for the progress Kylen has made with swimming. “He didn’t know how to swim when he started at Connections. With the drownings in Florida and all the water and canals, it’s frightening for us. But the Connections swim classes are helping him get more comfortable in the water and work on learning to swim,” she adds.
Strengthening the Home-to-School Connection
Zory also appreciates the way Connections teachers communicate with her about Kylen’s school day. She says it’s important for her to know how he behaves each day and to know if something happened -- good or bad -- so that she can talk with him about it after school. She also appreciates knowing which teaching strategies are working so she can reinforce those at home, giving Kylen more consistency. “The Connections teachers are so good about communicating with me. They send home a daily folder with materials I need and are always open to communicating with me,” she adds.
“I’m so glad he’s at Connections,” says Zory. “They are so great with him and with all the kids. Now, he looks forward to going to school.” She recalls many days at his previous school when he did not want to go and would struggle to get out of the car at school. But all that has changed. “When we pull up at Connections, he’ll tell me “I gotta go’ and he goes right in as if it’s his second home,” she says. “He’s very happy, and that makes me happy, too.”