From the 2020 Impact Brochure
Willie and his family tried several different learning environments before finding their way to The Joshua School. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3, Willie first enrolled at his local public school. He began to struggle with challenging behavior and it soon became clear to his mom, Victoria, that the public school system was not the right fit. Willie was briefly placed at an interim facility, which was not a good fit either. Finally he arrived at The Joshua School.
During his time at TJS, Willie, his family, and his teachers have all learned that Willie benefits from a structured schedule and teaching methods that include priming him for what will happen next and earning rewards for staying safe during difficult times. Trust is also a critical element. “Being able to trust his teachers is crucial for him,” says Victoria. “If he doesn’t trust you, he will not have anything to do with you.”
Willie is a fun-loving, social student. “His favorite aspects of school are likely to involve adventure, (riding bikes, field trips and recess) and relating to his buddies and teachers,” says Lead Teacher, Hilary.
Both Victoria and Hilary agree that the transition to remote learning in spring 2020 was very challenging for Willie. He would often ask when he could come back to school to see his friends. “Willie thrives with a structured day, where he is able to know what is expected of him,” points out Hilary. “The reduced structure during COVID remote learning and the inability for Willie to relate in person with his peers, led to less motivation to attend remote groups.” Victoria also points out that it was hard for everyone to watch Willie regress in areas where he had made previous gains because he was not rehearsing those skills at school.
Even before COVID, Willie had made great progress at TJS learning to accept and manage challenging events that occur in daily life. The pandemic and remote learning emerged as the next big challenge on this list. Through experimentation, creativity, and collaboration, Willie’s teachers and his mom discovered productive learning opportunities that continue to motivate Willie during the pandemic. One of his favorite rewards for attending and participating in remote groups was earning the opportunity to prank a teacher. The prospect of choosing a teacher to take a pie to the face on Zoom, eat a spoonful of hot sauce, or endure a bucket of ice water being dumped on his/her head led to “enthusiastic” participation in groups by Willie and his peers, says Hilary.
Willie also began walking dogs during the spring and summer. He has thrived on the independence he experiences through his dog walking business and loves earning money. What began as a way to stay busy (and safe) during the pandemic has blossomed into a new area of development for Willie, with potential to develop more skills around handling responsibility, customer relationships and money management.
“I am so thankful that my son enjoys going to school every day, and that I no longer get calls about how he has misbehaved,” says Victoria. “It feels like now at The Joshua School, there are people who really understand him and are able to meet him where he is.”