Updated: Sep 22
“This school is heaven sent,” says Marcia, mom of Connections 6th grader Jaiden who has autism. She credits the Connections team for helping her son transform from a child with delays and severe frustrations that often led to self-injury into a confident, happy boy who now enjoys helping others.
“Not Like the Other Kids” at Age 2
Jaiden’s early years were marked by difficult behaviors that created significant challenges for his single mother, Marcia, and his three siblings. At the age of 2, Jaiden wasn’t learning the way his older siblings had done and wasn’t gaining skills at the rate of his classmates. “He would get frustrated and bang his head on the floor over and over,” says Marcia. “In public, he was out of control. When I went shopping, he would run off in the store or throw a big fit if we had to wait in a line.”
He attended a nearby preschool but the staff didn’t know how to manage his behaviors. “I got phone call after phone call saying I had to come pick him up from school,” she recalls. “I almost lost my job because I kept having to leave to go pick up my son.”
Her experience syncs with a recent report showing that 16% of children with autism have been kicked out of childcare or preschool before elementary school, according to research by the Council for Exceptional Children.
Marcia learned about Connections, went for a tour and then nervously enrolled Jaiden in Kindergarten. “When he started at Connections, I took a whole week off of work so I could go pick him up when they called me to come get him early. But they never called,” says Marcia.
She says that the teachers and staff at Connections understood Jaiden and genuinely cared for him. “Jaiden could tell that they loved him and supported him. They got to the root of the problems causing his behaviors and helped him work through them,” she says.
Breaking Through Behavioral Barriers
With new strategies in place to handle frustration in a nurturing school environment, Jaiden has learned well. He has shown strong skills in math and is working on reading skills, which used to be a tremendous source of frustration for him. “At school when they gave him something that required reading, he used to shut down or run out of class,” says his mom. “But now, he’ll go to the teacher and ask for help. He tells me that he wants to learn how to read, and he is making progress.”
Progress Beyond Academics
When Jaiden started at Connections, he could not swim -- a fact that concerned his mom given all the water in South Florida and his propensity to run away in public places. That, too, has changed says Marcia: “He’s done great in the Connections swim classes. He can swim the entire length of the pool by himself now.”
Jaiden -- a previously picky eater -- has also learned to eat a variety of healthy foods and has picked up cooking skills in nutrition class. “He loves cooking class with Mr. Edwards, and he loves trying new foods,” says Marcia. “Sometimes, he’ll ask me for a food that we haven’t eaten at home -- like chicken quesadillas -- and he tells me he cooked it at school. He even helps me in the kitchen now.”
Jaiden also has thrived in independent-living classes, learning how to fold clothes, make his bed, clean the house and more. “At home, he takes the initiative to make his own bed, so now I don’t have to do that for him,” says his mom happily.
Before Connections, Jaiden was not interested in socializing with other kids. But even that has changed. “He used to only talk with adults, but now he socializes with his peers and goes out of his way to make sure the other kids are being taken care of,” says Marcia.
“The love and support you get from this school is incredible. They help us with food or technology or anything we need,” says Marcia.
Constant Support with Genuine Care
Marcia attributes her son’s remarkable progress to the teachers and staff at Connections and their genuine love for the children. She is sure that he would not be the amazing young man he is now without Connections.
“The love and support you get from this school is incredible. They help us with food or technology or anything we need,” she says. “They’re always available to help -- it’s never too early or too late to call them, and they’ll even help on weekends. If Jaiden is upset and struggling over the weekend, they’ll get on the phone with him and work through it. It’s amazing.”
Hopeful for the Future
Looking ahead, Marcia hopes that Jaiden will continue making strong progress and will be able to live independently as an adult. “I hope he will be able to go to college or pick up a trade and hold a job. I want him to be able to live a full life without assistance,” says his mom.