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Student Spotlight: Luna -- From Isolation and Disinterest to Hugs and Smiles

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

“Connections has made an insanely huge difference for Luna,” says her mom Donna Fletcher. “We’ve seen an amazing amount of progress in the last year and even in the last few months.”

Luna is a kind yet once-detached girl who was diagnosed with autism shortly after her second birthday. “She had no interest in people and would not respond to her name,” explains Luna’s mom Donna Fletcher. “She didn’t want to play with siblings. There was no hugging. She was in her own world.”

Her family struggled with daily life due to the symptoms of autism. Luna refused shoes, so her family couldn’t take her to stores or for a walk. And she struggled with being anywhere unfamiliar, further limiting where the family could go. “It was impossible to go to the grocery store with Luna,” says Donna. “She would physically refuse to sit in the cart and wasn’t able to stay calm in a busy store.”

Initial Therapy Produced Minimal Results

Upon her diagnosis, Luna’s parents began behavioral therapy for her through Florida’s Early Steps program. A therapist came to their house once a week and worked through activities designed to help Luna engage and overcome difficult behaviors. When covid hit, therapy sessions moved online, which made the sessions difficult and less effective.

“I would look at all my documentation about her diagnosis looking for even bare minimum progress. It was hard to see any progress,” says Donna.

A Referral Changed Everything

When Luna was old enough, her therapist recommended Connections, so the family toured with Luna. To the family’s surprise and delight, Luna seemed to feel at home right away.

She began Pre-K at Connections. At the time, she was nonverbal, disinterested in classmates and only willing to engage in preferred activities.

But a lot has changed in less than two years. The once-withdrawn girl now seeks out family members for a hug or a game. “She’s so much more involved in the family. If we’re in the living room, she’ll get right in the middle of things and want our attention. She even tries to get us to hold her up with our feet like an airplane as she laughs,” says Donna.

Her family credits Connections for the amazing change.

“Connections’ teachers are really good at finding ways to pull kids in. They’re willing to look at each student and see what each one needs in that moment,” says Donna. She explains that for Luna, teachers started with her preferred interests -- Care Bears and colors -- and made cards and velcro books that incorporated those interests into academic lessons like alphabetizing and counting. “Now Luna knows her 10s all the way to 100,” Donna says.

Luna has also made huge strides with communication. “Luna has found her voice. She runs around singing her songs, and she has begun repeating catchphrases from shows she watches, using them in the right context of conversations,” Donna says.

She has also learned how to swim through Connections’ aquatic program, giving the family much more peace near water. According to Donna, “She is terrified of the ocean and used to hate trying to swim. Now, she’s big into it and swims laps around the kiddie pool nearby. She even swims better than her big brother!”

“Connections has made an insanely huge difference for Luna,” says her mom Donna Fletcher. “We’ve seen an amazing amount of progress in the last year and even in the last few months.”

Solving Problems & Keeping Kids Safe

Donna appreciates the strong communication between Connections’ teachers and parents. “They are always open to communicating. I hear from her teachers every day on the Class Dojo app or by phone if needed,” says Donna. She appreciates how teachers frequently send her pictures of what Luna is doing in class and send home materials that Luna’s family can use to reinforce classroom lessons. Donna says that Connections’ teachers are really good at problem-solving, identifying behavior triggers and creating tools to help the kids learn to self-regulate. They share these tools with families, enabling them to approach behaviors in a way that’s consistent and effective for the student.

Donna also appreciates how seriously Connections takes security, which is often a heightened concern for students with autism who are prone to slip out of sight quickly. “Connections is Fort Knox-secure. I looked at other schools that didn’t have this level of security, and it was concerning. Luna’s previous school had too many students in the class, and it always felt out of control with kids screaming. It seemed like it would be easy for a child to slip out a door without someone noticing, but it’s not like that at Connections,” Donna explains. “Luna is a problem-solver and is very observant. She sees how we unlock doors at home and then tries to do the same. We have to be very careful at home and make sure that her school also has good safety measures in place.”

Life Has Changed

In less than two years at Connections, Luna has made significant improvements. “Life has changed,” says Donna. “Luna’s fully part of the family. She can handle more of our daily activities and can even travel with us. Plus, we can see more of what’s going on in her mind. She’s so much smarter than she lets on. We’re so happy that we found Connections!”


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