When Cheryl Smith thinks of Louisiana Connections Academy, she not only thinks of it as the place her son receives his education, but also as the place that changed his life.
Cheryl’s son, Christopher, has autism, and at age four was diagnosed with a very severe form. Christopher was not able to follow any commands, had zero participation with others, and was barely able to communicate.
“I was willing to accept whatever issues Christopher had,” said Cheryl. “I just wanted to help him.”
She and her husband would take Christopher to mental therapy twice a week, as well as private speech therapy, private occupational therapy, and school therapy. “We literally bombarded him with therapy,” said Cheryl.
Christopher was enrolled in Springfield Public Elementary School, an area outside Hammond, Louisiana, where faculty and staff did an exceptional job of helping him with his needs.
For K-6 grades, the traditional public school provided excellent direction for Christopher, putting him in regular classes and special education, but also offering him individualized therapy sessions. It was here, at age 6, that the Smith family experienced their first miracle: Christopher smiled for the first time.
“I cried,” said Cheryl. “I started getting phone calls from people at school. They had never seen him smile – neither had I.”
The miracles would continue to come. A year later, Christopher told his counselor ‘Hi’ for the first time. At the age of 7, he finally told Cheryl “I love you” all by himself.
But once he made it to the 6th grade, Christopher began to regress badly. He stopped communicating. He stopped doing schoolwork. His meltdowns increased.
“He had come so far that I just couldn’t stand the thought of losing the child he had become,” said Cheryl. Therapists and school officials told her there wasn’t anything more that they could do. “We searched and prayed for answers,” she said. “That’s when we heard about Louisiana Connections Academy.”
Cheryl and her family researched LACA’s programs, accommodations, certifications, and asked a lot of questions. Her biggest concern was fear of Christopher becoming even more socially withdrawn from people with him receiving his education from an online school while at home.
Cheryl’s fear of ‘what if’ was overcome more by the reality that her son was regressing academically and socially, and that a change was needed. “We took a leap of faith and moved him from traditional public school to online public school with LACA,” said Cheryl.
To the resilient mother’s surprise, she witnessed yet another miracle within one week of enrolling her son in the school: Christopher started smiling and talking again. The meltdowns became less and less and Christopher even took it upon himself to get out the house and talk to people.
He even went to his bedroom on his own to do school work, play and sleep in it for the first time. “My husband and I were speechless,” said Cheryl. “Instead of Christopher withdrawing more socially with online school, he became MORE social!”
“Students who are identified as having Autism typically exhibit difficulty in social situations and challenges with communicating,” said Christie Jackson, manager of LACA’s Special Education. “Louisiana Connections Academy provides learning in a safe and comfortable environment, which can help students who have these challenges overcome them in a less-threatening setting."
Louisiana Connections Academy turned out to be the perfect remedy for Christopher. As happens to some autistic children, sometimes the noise, distraction, and taunting of other children can became too distracting.
With online schooling, Cheryl feels her son is now in control of his environment and education and that has helped him to excel.
“He attends live lessons with his teachers and other students. He actually comments and joins in conversations! He just recently joined two clubs with students from around the U.S. and for the first time Christopher wants and has friends!” said Cheryl.
Christopher now looks forward to the future. He dreams about college. He currently partakes in robotics and gaming clubs and wants to work with computers one day.
“We are so thankful for Louisiana Connections Academy,” said Cheryl. When her child’s educational needs changed, a public school option was there. “Virtual public school provided us an option when traditional choices could no longer meet our child’s needs.”
Louisiana Connections Academy is open to all children of all abilities in all parishes of the state. Like Cheryl, an adult must be in the home to serve as a learning coach and ensure a child is undertaking the daily instruction that occurs online on the child’s computer. All teachers are Louisiana certified.
“Louisiana Connections Academy offers a tailored education experience to the needs of the individual student,” said Outreach Coordinator Shelly Centanni. “All types of learners can excel in an online virtual setting. I would encourage parents to research our program by attending an information session, contacting an enrolled family and by visiting our website.”
Enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year for grades K-12 is now open and interested parents or families wanting to learn more about Louisiana Connections Academy can visit www.LouisianaConnectionsAcademy.com for more information.