BAC's First Graduate: Isabella de Mora
BAC's First Graduate: Isabella de Mora
Last week, BAC celebrated the achievements of a very special student. After six years at our school, Isabella de Mora is graduating. During her time here, she has made incredible progress in the areas of communication, independence, vocation, developing leisure skills, fitness, and emotional health. This will be our first official graduation ceremony, and we're so happy and proud to devote it to an amazing young woman whose positive energy has brightened the halls of our school on a daily basis.
Isabella first came to us in 2012 after being referred to our program. At fifteen years old, she had a later start in a 1:1 ABA program than many students who have attended our school. She was also travelling from New Jersey with a two-hour bus commute in both directions, an extra source of stress for a young adult in a new educational environment.
An initial assessment of Isabella indicated that working on communication skills needed to be the first priority. Like many minimally verbal students with autism, she demonstrated interfering behaviors out of frustration over her inability to communicate her needs and emotions. Her instructors introduced her to Proloquo2Go, a communication app used by many of our students. According to educational director Julie Russell, Isabella "took to Proloquo immediately," quickly learning how to use the app to express herself. Andrea Delgado, Isabella's former primary instructor, confirms that Isabella has strong generalization skills: "When introducing a new task, she surprised you with how well she was able to generalize to those tasks. She has also improved significantly in communicating her needs with her iPad."
Isabella has also benefited from having speech therapy sessions with Dr. Christina Perigoe, an expert in speech-language pathology, who visits the school in person twice a year and holds weekly speech sessions with Isabella and her teacher via Skype and FaceTime. These sessions have helped Isabella improve her articulation and fluency. The combined effect of Proloquo and sessions with Dr. Perigoe has given Isabella more tools to communicate. She now uses Proloquo and her improved articulation to initiate short conversations with her instructors and make some of her favorite requests, including "Let's make silly faces."
In addition to improving her communication, Isabella's team of instructors and her clinical supervisor, Jonathan Dietz, have worked hard to help develop her independence and vocational skills. She completes tasks around the school to keep it organized and orderly, including shredding papers, vacuuming, and making copies for instructors. Isabella was also one of the first students to begin working at Shake Shack when BAC began its partnership with the Downtown Brooklyn location. "She has learned to follow a work schedule, and with enough practice, learns the routine well enough to do it without the schedule," says Jon. "I'm proud to say that when she graduates, she will have many skills to offer the workplace." Her instructor accompanies her to Shake Shack and largely stands back to observe as Isabella greets her employer, gathers her materials, and works on her assignments. Even the walk to and from Shake Shack takes little oversight, as Isabella has mastered recognizing and obeying safety signs.
Another area where Isabella has grown dramatically is in the variety of leisure skills and activities she enjoys. Years ago, she was content to spend her down time relaxing in the school's massage chair. Now, she reads magazines (Good Housekeeping is her favorite), scrolls through Instagram to find her favorite funny animal videos, shoots hoops in basketball, completes arts and crafts projects, and goes horseback riding with GallopNYC.
Isabella's educational team has investigated what makes her happiest and based their teaching off of their findings, following her motivation to help develop her leisure activities. What they found was a young woman who was a bit of a tomboy, but who also enjoyed exploring her girly side and getting her makeup done and nails painted by her instructors. They also learned that she had an aptitude for exercise; since beginning a program at Planet Fitness, she's moved to heavier weights, more repetitions, and now walks and jogs on a treadmill.
In increasing her skill set across many areas, Isabella's emotional health has grown stronger since her first year at BAC. She's more tolerant and relaxed when there are unexpected changes in her regular routine. Her comfort level in group activities, such as her weekly pizza outings with some of her classmates, has increased, and she can use Proloquo to place her lunch orders with confidence. She embraces spontaneity and recently sent her mother an unprompted text message from her iPad, informing Mom when she was leaving the building to work at Shake Shack.
Helping Isabella grow into the accomplished young woman she is has been a happy challenge for our team. Her friendly personality, infectious laugh, and affectionate nature make her a pleasure to work with. Anyone walking the halls of our school might feel a tap on the shoulder and turn to see Isabella, grinning from ear to ear. If they're especially lucky, they might get a spontaneous "You are awesome!" to brighten their day. This dog-loving daddy's girl with a voracious appetite for pizza has brought joy to so many at BAC. Challenged to sum up Isabella in just a few sentences, Raven says, "I truly am proud of the brilliant, hardworking and motivated young lady Isabella has come to be. As much as she has learned at BAC, she has taught the staff and myself much more. She has taught me a second language (ASL). She has also taught the staff it is A-OK to make silly faces at any moment."
No doubt Isabella's last day at BAC brings tears to the eyes of our staff, students, and volunteers. As much as we will miss her, we're excited for the possibilities as she transitions into the adult world. No matter what she does next, we're confident that it will be, in the words of Isabella herself, awesome.