Sometimes, seemingly small changes can mean big improvements in the lives of a student with autism. For 18-year-old Daniel Moynahan, a student at Y.A.L.E.’s Audubon campus, these successes can be measured in nearly all aspects of his learning. With encouragement from staff and peers, along with his own dogged determination, Daniel is meeting—and surpassing—many of the goals set for him.
According to his teacher, Emily Hughes, Danny has learned to be more academically focused. “It used to take him more than 45 minutes to finish a worksheet. Now he can do it in under five,” said Hughes. A wiz in social studies and local geography, Danny can locate almost any New Jersey town on a map.
He has made great strides in math, too. “When he came into my class, Danny was unable to use a calculator,” said Hughes. “Now, he has mastered it, and can use it independently, not only to do work at school but also out in the community.” During weekly trips, Daniel uses his calculator at the Acme and Wal-Mart to add up purchases and determine his amount of change.
Since joining Hughes’ classroom last summer, Danny’s social behavior toward his teachers and classmates has improved dramatically. “Now, he shows respect for the personal space of others, and has really expanded the range of recreational things he will do: He loves to play kickball, and has added computer games, Wii baseball and Uno to his list of favorite things to do with friends,” she said.
But perhaps Danny’s most impressive and life-changing improvement has been in the area of life skills.
It is not uncommon for people with autism to have limited routines, especially when it comes to food.
“When Danny first came to Y.A.L.E., he would eat only certain things—pudding, cookies—and he had to eat them in a certain order every day,” said Hughes. Now, he is impressing staff and friends with his willingness to try a new variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables and meats. He has also learned how to stand on the lunch line and order school lunch like many of his friends. “He even eats tacos and cheese steak now,” laughed Hughes.
Teaching Daniel to try, tolerate and eventually enjoy these new foods not only helps ensure he gets better nutrition, it prepares him for life in the community.
Danny’s friends, teachers and parents celebrate his accomplishments, and take pride in the gigantic leaps he has made this school year.