Renee ready for the bus on her first day back to public school.

Reneé was diagnosed with autism when she was four years old. Not long after she began kindergarten at public school, her mother, Kimberly, recognized that Reneé’s behaviors were interfering with her ability to learn. Reneé had no means of communicating, and would often lash out and hit her teachers and classmates when her wants or needs were not met.

Kimberly’s search for a school that would provide her daughter a more individualized education led her to the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism at St. Joseph’s Villa.

“The school felt like it was just right. I couldn’t see her going anywhere else,” she said.

At Sarah Dooley, Reneé’s teacher, Tina Marler, helped her communicate by labeling items in the classroom, from toys to food to technology. Reneé learned to use new words, and how to ask for things she wanted without getting frustrated. After gaining the basic ability to say “yes” or “no,” she continued to develop new communication skills that unlocked her world. Learning to communicate enabled Reneé to read, solve math problems, and engage her community on field trips to places like restaurants and movie theaters.

Reneé returned to public school this year and is doing exceptionally well in fourth grade. Kimberly says that Reneé is talking more than ever, hardly has behavioral issues, and is much more willing to be flexible and try new things.

“I absolutely loved her teachers and the staff,” said Kimberly. “They are the best. They helped Reneé come as far as she has.”

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