Basketballs, tennis balls, golf balls, super balls. Give Alonzo Richardson a ball of any size and he’ll bounce it. His dribbling skills are well known throughout The Day School at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh.
“Alonzo loves going to The Day School,” says his father Nate Richardson. “He is non-verbal, so Alonzo ‘tells’ us by his actions instead of using words. He jumps out of the car smiling and runs to the door every day, giving big hugs to staff members along the way. Everyone there cares so much about Alonzo and our family.”
The team of experts at The Day School provides specialized education, autism support, and multiple disabilities support to nearly 200 students each year. Alonzo, age 12, is in an autism support classroom with five other students.
When he first came to The Day School in 2018, Alonzo lacked appropriate social skills and struggled with outbursts during his interactions with adults and his peers. With consistent attention from his certified special education teachers, in addition to speech, occupational, and behavioral therapies, Alonzo’s progress has been amazing – even during the pandemic – with huge support from his parents and siblings.
“We participated in virtual learning for most of the 2020-2021 school year,” Richardson explains. “I was the principal, the custodian, the lunch lady, and the classroom helper. With all of the challenges of COVID-19 on top of Alonzo’s autism, being online with his teachers helped Alonzo continue to achieve goals related to self-care, social skills, positive behaviors, and academics.”
Alonzo returned to in-person learning in the spring of 2021 and eventually moved to a different autism support classroom, a newly transformed space at The Day School.
“Alonzo is thriving in his new environment,” says his teacher, Chelsea Balawejder. “We have a large classroom with plenty of room for breakout areas, a place to eat lunch, and a bathroom. This limits the number of transitions to different areas of the school that we make in a day, which can be difficult for kids with autism. We also have two connected sensory and gross motor rooms where a student can go to rest and recharge. Alonzo has space to bounce all the balls he wants, and then he returns to the class focused and ready to learn.”
“Alonzo's enjoying the new level of independence he has achieved, and our home is a much calmer place now that his outbursts have gone from 10 or more each day to one or two in a week,” says Richardson. “It is so good to see him maturing, learning to communicate his needs, and interacting with others.”