There was a side to Damian that he needed help unlocking.

Damian suffered a stroke early in his life that left him with limited mobility on his left side. It was a clear area for the staff at Little City’s ChildBridge Center for Education to focus on when the sixth-grader first came to the school in 2023. Helping him learn how to use his limited mobility to aid him in everyday tasks would improve independence and reduce frustration.

But there was a side to Damian that was not as apparent, and it was the key to unlocking his potential.

“Damian was always a very quiet kid and it was hard to hear what he was trying to communicate. I think he felt like he wasn’t being heard,” said Nicole Ruiz, Damian’s Board Certified Behavior Analsyst (BCBA) at Little City. “He would lash out a lot at first and be aggressive against peers and staff, especially students he felt were taking attention away from him.”

Damian had struggled at the therapeutic day school he attended before Little City, and while the solution to his challenges was not as apparent as working on his mobility, Nicole and the staff at ChildBridge didn’t take long to find the answer.

Staff started to focus on helping Damian communicate more clearly and confidently and soon realized he loved interacting with both staff and students – the same people he’d often lash out at previously. They started giving him responsibilities like making copies, running errands to other classrooms, and even pushing the lunch cart into the classroom with both hands.

The gradual process of encouraging Damian to come out of his shell led to a complete change in behaviors. He now is seen as a leader in his classroom, often making sure other students have everything they need when getting off the bus, greeting everyone and being the student to welcome new staff and visitors on tours.

School Assistant Principal Bre Reveley said there was such a huge improvement in such a short time that Damian accomplished the rare goal of graduating from his Behavior Implementation Plan within a single year.

“He decreased his behaviors so much that he doesn’t need any kind of plan at all now,” Are said. “It has been really amazing to see such great progress in such a short time. We just really gave him a lot of positive reinforcement and it made all the difference. Now he just really loves being around people and making new friends and being a helper.”

While Damian broke ground in 2023 by graduating from his Behavior Implementation Plan and becoming a school leader, there are a lot more big goals ahead that the staff at ChildBridge Center can already see for the sixth grader.

Both Bre and Nicole said Damian is well on his way to moving into a school district program before graduation age and they both see a future where he could not only thrive in an adult residential program, but also find community-based employment one day.

“The skills I’ve already seen him develop here are going to benefit him long term,” Nicole said. “If we keep working on the things he has already shown he can do, he’s going to have a lot of success everywhere he goes.”