Isaiah is a spirited Kindergartener who struggled in traditional programs due to his lack of speech, hyperactivity and behavior challenges associated with autism. His dad spent countless hours after work helping Isaiah burn energy, learn numbers and letters, and fit in socially -- without much success until he came to Connections.
An only child, Isaiah lives with his single father, Jaime, grandmother and aunt in Palm Beach County. Jaime is a devoted, loving father who has been consumed with Isaiah’s care outside of his full-time job.
In the early years of Isaiah’s life, he did not speak, though it was clear that he understood the world around him. Through speech therapy, he learned to use nonverbal cues to begin communicating. For example, when he was hungry, he’d point to food.
Because Isaiah’s family speaks English and Spanish at home, they wondered if the multiple languages had confused Isaiah, leading to the speech delay. But by the age of 3.5 years, Isaiah presented more signs of autism. “I’ve taken care of nieces and nephews and could see that he was different,” says Jaime. “It was overwhelming to figure out what he wanted because he couldn’t speak.” This lack of communication fueled frustration for Isaiah, leading to frequent tantrums.
A key challenge for Isaiah was his unending supply of energy. His dad says that young Isaiah was in constant motion -- running, jumping, touching and often breaking things. To alleviate the excessive energy, Jaime would take Isaiah to the park each day after work, walking and exercising with him to the point of exhaustion. While this approach helped Isaiah feel more calm and focused temporarily, it was a tall order for a working, single father.
Finding the Right Learning Environment
Isaiah attended a traditional daycare briefly, but it did not go well. “There were so many students in the class, and he had trouble communicating and behaving the way they wanted. It was very difficult for him,” says Jaime.
Jaime learned about Connections through friends and applied immediately. “When we started, I felt relief right away. The teachers have been working with children with autism for a long time, and they knew right away how to take care of Isaiah,” Jaime says. He adds that the small class sizes and consistency have helped Isaiah feel more calm and ready to learn.
“It’s so difficult to care for a child with autism when you don’t know how to help them,” says Jaime. “It’s such a relief for him to be at Connections with teachers he loves and who understand him.”
“It’s so difficult to care for a child with autism when you don’t know how to help them,” says his dad Jaime. “It’s such a relief for him to be at Connections with teachers he loves and who understand him.”
Isaiah’s Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Maria, says, “Isaiah has made a lot of progress. When he began at Connections last year, he didn’t speak but had learned to use a few words by the end of the year. This year, he has progressed from using phrases all the way to speaking in complete sentences. Recently while we were reading a book about animals to the class, he told the class, ‘Look, it’s a deer! Look, it’s a bear!’”
She says that Isaiah also has made progress socially, learning to share and play with peers and that he often goes out of his way to include students who aren’t involved in an activity.
Ms. Maria explains that Connections’ structured environment is important for students with autism as it helps them learn what’s expected and what’s coming next. “In my class, we post a visual schedule for each student, and it usually includes a picture of the activity that we’re doing at each time of the day. For Isaiah, we’re able to use a visual schedule with words because he’s learning to read. For instance, his schedule shows the labels Centers, Lunch and Recess. And we include pictures of animals on his schedule because he loves animals so much,” says Maria.
Jaime notes that Isaiah’s hyperactivity has lessened now that he feels comfortable in his learning environment. In addition, his growing ability to communicate has directly impacted his behavior. Isaiah doesn’t get frustrated as frequently as before and is developing skills to handle the feeling of frustration more appropriately.
Beyond Academics: Swim Program and Summer Camp
Isaiah has always loved water, and his dad has taken him to the community pool and beach often. “I’ve worried because he doesn’t understand the dangers that come with water, and there’s water everywhere here in South Florida. One slight move, and he could be under the water.”
Jaime appreciates the adaptive swim program at Connections, and the way his son is being taught how to swim so that he can stay safe.
Isaiah has also benefited from Connections Summer Camp, which he attended in 2023. “When you leave your child at regular daycare during the summer while you work, you worry because he may not get much attention -- especially if your child can’t communicate or behaves differently than other kids. You wonder if your child is going to be safe and cared for,” says Jaime. “But I felt confident leaving Isaiah at Connections Summer Camp, and it was such a relief for me. He loved it and got to go different places with them and see different things.”
Supportive Community Helps Families
Jaime is also grateful for the Connections community, where he found families who could relate to his experience and help each other. “It’s not easy caring for a child with autism and not knowing how to help. Autism is not like anything else,” says Jaime. “It was such a relief to find other people who could relate to our situation. We share ideas and advice.”