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Student Spotlight: Unlocking Nico’s Remarkable Abilities

When Nico started Pre-K at his local elementary school, life and learning were hard for him. Like many children diagnosed with autism, he struggled to communicate his wants, needs and thoughts, leaving him frustrated. This frustration often led to anger issues that mainstream teachers did not know how to handle. Nico struggled to pay attention in class and wasn’t learning. “We weren’t seeing any progress and it was difficult for us,” says his dad Michael. 

A friend suggested they look at Connections because she knew the school’s principal, Debra Johnson, and had confidence in her team’s ability to help Nico. “We toured and immediately knew we had found Nico’s new home,” says Michael. “When we walked in, Aura welcomed Nico with big open arms, and that was it. He adored her. He’s made great strides ever since.”

Progress Reveals Nico’s True Abilities 

A collaborative team of therapists and teachers focused on helping Nico learn to communicate. And as he mastered this skill, it unlocked big progress in multiple other areas. “Now that he can express his feelings and communicate with us, he’s much more patient and can better regulate his behavior,” says Michael.

ABA therapy has also been instrumental in his progress. ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis and is an evidence-based approach to help children with autism improve social, communication and learning skills through reinforcement strategies. Connections therapists and teachers weave ABA strategies throughout each student’s day.

“I can honestly say that Nico going to Connections has been life-changing and will give him the opportunity to participate in the world,” says Michael.

Now in 5th grade at Connections, Nico is thriving academically, already reading above grade level and developing excellent handwriting. He also demonstrates impressive math abilities. “Nico is like a walking calculator. He can count to 3,000 in increments of 36. He can multiply two-digit numbers in his head and always gets the right answer,” says Michael. 

On the social side, Nico has developed strong relationships with his peers and the staff. 

Building Swim Skills for Safety 

Nico’s family is also excited about his progress in the pool. Nico’s grandparents live nearby and have a pool in their backyard so his parents knew they had to prioritize teaching Nico how to swim. “We had him in the water at six months old working on rolling over to his back for safety,” says Michael. 

Nico has made huge progress in the school’s swim lessons and loves being in the water. “He’s become an incredibly strong swimmer and has learned how to hold his breath properly without taking in any water,” Michael adds. “He can swim to the bottom of a 10-foot-deep pool to retrieve things and is now working on perfecting his freestyle and backstroke.” 

Improving Nutrition at School and Home

Balanced eating is often a challenge for children with autism because many limit their intake to only a few foods. Nico shares that struggle, even though he’s growing up with a father who is a professional chef with an extensive garden at home. 

“Nico can identify every piece of food in the kitchen and everything in the produce section, but getting him to eat certain foods can be challenging,” says Michael. “For example, he loves the flavor of strawberries but has a problem with the texture of seeds so won’t eat strawberries.”

In addition to teaching Nico that he can eat foods that have ripened in the garden at home, Michael appreciates Connections’ nutrition and cooking classes that encourage Nico to eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. 

Moving Forward

“I can honestly say that Nico going to Connections has been life-changing and will give him the opportunity to participate in the world,” says Michael. “It’s important for me that he’s able to take care of himself when he gets to adulthood. Now, I can see that happening and it takes a lot of worry off me.”

Nico’s parents anticipate that with continued progress, Nico will move to a mainstream school in the future. “We love being part of the Connections community. Because of the progress Nico has made at Connections, we’re really hopeful for his future,” says Michael.


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