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Student Spotlight: Samy’s Triumph – A Journey of Growth Leading to Mainstream Schooling

Samy has grown up at Connections. Now in his final year of middle school, Samy may be headed to a mainstream high school thanks to the tremendous progress he has made. It’s a far cry from his early days when his prognosis looked bleak.

Difficult Early Years

Samy was diagnosed with autism at 18 months of age and struggled with many of the characteristics of autism. “It was horrible,” says his mom Luz. “He didn’t speak for years and was really frustrated and aggressive. His care was so consuming that I wasn’t able to have a life.”

Luz, a single mom with a full-time job, says that his early years required all her time outside of work for his therapies. “I used to go grocery shopping at midnight because that was the only time I had,” she recalls. “My mother helped me and stayed with him while I worked, and his sister Maria was also a big help. His care was a big deal in our lives.”

His prognosis was not good. In fact, the neurologist told Luz to expect many limits on Samy’s life, including the idea that he probably would not be able to speak.

A New School Makes a Difference

When Samy was preschool age, Luz learned about Connections while it was under a different name but with the same leadership team. They interviewed and were happy to get in.

Samy has thrived at Connections – academically, socially and personally. He has mastered academic skills, developed the ability to control his emotions and learned to socialize well with other students. “He loves the team at Connections. They understand him and know how to help him,” says Luz.

And the expectation that he may not speak? He’s proven that one wrong – three times over. Samy now speaks English, Spanish and Arabic.

Connections teacher Beth Potter – who was Samy’s classroom teacher from Kindergarten until 5th grade – says, “Samy has always been a smart student. Early on, he didn’t have as much language as he does now, but you could tell he had the ability. He has always been interested in other countries and cultures and has memorized extensive details about ancient Egypt. Even in 1st grade, he was motivated to do classroom assignments in exchange for getting to spend time looking at Egyptian flashcards.”

His mom adds, “His brain is like a computer; he can store so much information. He’s really interested in ancient history and animals and loves reading about them. He watches related videos on YouTube and the Discovery Channel, and he has taught me a lot about history.”

Expanding His Diet for a Healthier Life

Many children with autism restrict their diets to a few foods, and that was true for Samy in his early years when he would only eat macaroni and cheese. But in Connections Health & Wellness classes, he has learned to try a wide variety of healthy foods, including the green vegetables he used to refuse. His mom says, “His teacher Diane is so good with him. She cooks with him and has gotten him try avocado, spinach, broccoli, salad and cauliflower. Now he’ll eat those at home and restaurants.”

In the independent-living classes, Samy has learned to make his own bed, fold his clothes and help his mom in the kitchen.

“I don’t have words to describe what Connections has done for us. They’ve been everything for me,” says Luz.

More Important Than Academics Progress

Luz is pleased with the progress Samy has made with learning objectives, but says she values something else even more than that. “I know he is safe at Connections, and I don’t have to worry about him,” she says. “Life is totally different with Samy at Connections.”

Luz says that the extensive training that every staff member goes through shows in their ability to work well with students. In addition, the team has offered support beyond the classroom walls to her and her family. “Anytime I have a problem, I can call and anyone will help me,” she says.

Looking Forward

While Luz is not eager for Samy to leave the Connections community, she is proud of the incredible progress her son has made and is open to the idea of him transitioning to a typical high school.

Teacher Beth says this is important because, “He’s so capable, and a traditional high school offers different programs and opportunities that are well-suited to him.”

Looking forward, Luz says, “I believe Samy can finish high school and go to college. I hope he’ll be able to lead a normal life without me caring for him and think he can even marry and have kids of his own,” says Luz.

“I don’t have words to describe what Connections has done for us. They’ve been everything for me,” says Luz.


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