Aaron and The Day School
What a Difference The Day School Can Make
Parents Nannette and Joe Hrycko of Finleyville, Pa., were elated when their first child, Aaron, was born in 1991. He was the happy, healthy baby that every parent prays for. But only two months after his birth, Aaron went through a 12-hour period of incessant screaming that was followed by a lack of energy. The pediatrician chalked it up to a virus— until Aaron started having seizures.
Aaron was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm that would leave him nonverbal, developmentally delayed and autistic.
“We were supposed to see a full recovery,” says Nannette. “It never happened.”
Pediatric specialists at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh believed that the Hryckos would be served best by enrolling Aaron in The Day School, an Approved Private School at The Children’s Institute (CI) for children ages 2 to 21 with autism, cerebral palsy and other neurological impairments. However, the school was filled to capacity and not accepting
new students at the time. Aaron participated in other community programs for autistic children and mentally challenged children from the age of 3 to 5. But Nannette jumped at the chance to enroll him at CI when a space opened. Aaron became a full-time student of The Day School at the age of 5 and has been flourishing there since.
Aaron’s day would seem like a typical school day to outsiders unfamiliar with The Day School. There’s time for reading, spelling, math and social studies. Gym, music and art are also part of the weekly schedule. But Aaron’s school week also includes a social
skills course with a social worker and psychologist, occupational therapy with a personal care occupational therapist, and speech and language sessions with a speech/language therapist.
His progress has been monumental.
Aaron’s speech/language therapist, Patricia Falk, says that when Aaron came to The Day School in 1997, he communicated primarily by using a communication book, picture symbols and a few signs. Today, she says, he communicates using a DynaMyte® speech-output device that allows him to generate messages and ideas to listeners
And unlike some autistic children who prefer to keep to themselves, Aaron enjoys socializing with others. He plays at home with his brothers (Adam, 7; Andrew, 5) and sister (Anjolina, 3), and has made friends at school. If it weren’t for his parents’ time restrictions, Aaron would play endlessly on the computer, and he can’t get enough of his alphabet games and swimming. His recreation is balanced with learning to handle increasing responsibility. Recently, staff at The Day School gave Aaron a job organizing and stacking supplies in the school store.
Because Aaron has adjusted so well, friends ask Nannette why she hasn’t mainstreamed Aaron into the public school system.
“Why?” she asks. “Parents want their children to be happy and do well in life. Aaron is happy and is doing well at The Day School, so why would I take that away from him?”
“Our experience and expertise at The Day School is exclusively with children who have special needs,” explains Aaron’s teacher, Theresa Forlastro. “With the small classroom size, we can work toward cognitive and social goals without the distractions of a larger classroom. Related therapies also can be delivered to the students in settings that reinforce those skills.”
The Day School clearly has become a second home to Aaron, but what about the rest of the Hrycko family? Nannette says that Adam, Andrew and Anjolina have become accepting of others with differences because of the experiences with their big brother and his friends at CI. And Nannette and Joe have not only made friends with teachers and other families from The Day School, but they have come to see them as a support system. Nannette finds the network of resources especially reassuring as Aaron moves into his teen years.
“Aaron is 14 now, and sometimes I wonder if what he’s experiencing is part of his disability or just Aaron being a teenager,” says Nannette. “Everyone here is in a similar situation. I can ask them anything.”
The Hryckos are just one of hundreds of families who have come to depend on The Day School over the years. They find comfort in knowing that the school is designed especially for Aaron and other children like him. They know that the teachers, therapists and support staff will work tirelessly on his behalf, helping him to build upon his progress.
“Aaron gets everything he needs here,” says Nannette. “We couldn’t be happier with the program or with Aaron’s progress.”