Growing Up Great

After suffering through anxiety and aggression at other schools, Jacob learned the skills he needed to thrive at the Institute’s specialized autism education program in Montgomery County.

From the start, Jacob Edwards struggled in school. Diagnosed with autism, Jacob was overstimulated, and couldn’t make it through the school day without acting out—hitting, biting, throwing—it was clear that he was anxious and overwhelmed. The last straw was the day in third grade when he broke a window at school with his bare hands, landing him in the hospital.

“We knew he was not safe, and the teachers were not safe,” recalls his mother, Jenn Lynn. So she hired an advocate to find an appropriate school for Jacob, and was thrilled when Kennedy Krieger’s Montgomery County School accepted him. “It was such a relief—I burst into tears,” she says. “I knew that Kennedy Krieger was the best school around.”

Jacob started at Kennedy Krieger at the end of third grade, and is now in fifth grade. “He’s a different person—it’s amazing,” says Jenn.

The difference, she says, is that school staff actively identify Jacob’s issues and what strategies are most successful. “They are preemptive,” she explains. “They know what his triggers are and what’s going to set him off…They all have strategies they can use to be successful for that situation.”

The biggest key to Jacob’s success, according to his mom, is his school social worker, Rebecca Goldberg. “If he’s having a hard day, he can go talk with her,” she says. “She gives him tools to communicate that he is overwhelmed or uncomfortable.”

Goldberg helped him learn to express himself, through talking, through a journal, through social stories, and other methods. “For Jacob, it was important that he felt understood and heard, and not judged,” she says. She and Jacob’s other teachers and therapists—occupational, speech, behavior, social work, art, and music—all share ideas about what works for Jacob and what doesn’t.

Jacob’s new ability to communicate his needs has transferred to home life, too. “When he says, ‘I need a break, I need to go,’ we can leave and he doesn’t fall on the ground or get aggressive like he used to,” says his mother. “He knows the language now.”

Jacob and his family can now go on outings—to the movies or classes or even just for a ride on the Metro—all things they were unable to do in the past. Lately, Jacob has taken to carrying a camera on their outings, and has shown a talent for photography. “He has a really great eye,” says his mother. “He has a natural sense for balancing the picture. He can fit the things he wants into the frame and it’s actually very beautiful.”

By all accounts, Jacob is flourishing. At the end of the year, he won the school’s Biggest Heart award. “Jacob is a very caring and thoughtful kid,” says Goldberg. “He is always asking others, ‘How are you doing? Are you doing okay?’ ”

For Jacob and his family, Kennedy Krieger has changed their lives. “The school has totally saved us,” says Jenn. “It saved his life, it really did. He was headed down a really bad path at the other school, because no one could handle him.”

“I’ve seen a huge maturation and growth in Jacob,” says Goldberg. “It’s such a wonderful thing.” She adds, “Jacob is such a capable and confident kid…It feels great seeing him get to the potential that we and his parents always knew he had.”

“Jacob is such a capable and confident kid…It feels great seeing him get to the potential that we and his parents always knew he had.”

– Rebecca Goldberg, social worker, Kennedy Krieger School Programs

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