There’s a common saying that when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. What happens when the teachers supporting a child with autism lose sight of that? They make assumptions that just aren’t helpful. That’s what happened to Tim Thornton back in fourth grade when his family moved to Connecticut.

“They were just not prepared to work with kids with high IQ and social deficiencies…He learned incredibly fast, but the social-emotional wasn’t there. By the third or fourth week of summer school after we moved, I was keenly aware that it wasn’t working. By October, the district was in agreement and recommended ALL Academy,” recalls his mom Pat Thornton.

Tim switched to ALL Academy for fifth to ninth grade. An individualized approach focusing on executive functioning and social-emotional learning made all the difference. “They helped me better understand my emotions,” he reports. Good communication between school and home meant that the family could carry over strategies into everyday activities. Academically Tim thrived, and socially too -- he made friends with whom he still stays in touch.

Tim really wanted to attend the public magnet high school, Information Technology & Software Engineering at the Fairchild Wheeler Campus in Bridgeport. However, Tim and the rest of his team weren’t sure he was ready to jump in with both feet, especially since Fairchild Wheeler doesn’t offer a full special education program. ALL Academy staff and Tim’s mom worked together to create a proposal for the school district and the magnet school to customize a program for Tim. She credits the consistent teamwork between the schools and family for Tim’s successful transition, even though the pandemic made education chaotic that year.

Tim is finishing up his junior year with a 3.94 GPA and is ranked 8th in his class. He no longer has any staff support during the day, although he still meets with his Aspire BCBA once in a while and his speech therapist twice a week. Tim is clear about fading out supports, “I got this.” His life has really taken off.

Tim is active outside the classroom. He’s a three-time gold medal figure skater, and he’s transitioned from the adaptive team to the neurotypical team. Tim’s a swimmer and a skier, too. He also has a rich online life, from practicing coding and creating new video games, to live-streaming his own show. He met his boyfriend online, and they are “going strong for over a year” even though his partner lives in Wales.

Tim and his family started visiting colleges this spring, for either game design or drama. “We’re doing things we never anticipated would be part of our lives…It wouldn’t have happened without the people at the Academy and his outside team,” states Pat. Tim says, “I’m just happy now.”

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Tim Thornton: Top of His Class