Bradley's Story

When behavior gets in the way of learning, Kennedy Krieger School Programs help bring out a student’s potential.

Bradley Zaukus started to get out of control in the first grade. Diagnosed with autism, his behavior was worsening to the point that he was biting and hitting other students, and the teachers at his school couldn’t handle him.

When Bradley first came to Kennedy Krieger, he was struggling so badly. But his third grade teacher turned everything around… She never gave up on him. She just felt that he had endless potential.

Jill Zaukus, mother of Bradley

“They weren’t able to keep him or the other students safe,” explains Bradley’s mother, Jill. The county suggested that he be placed in a non-public school—a privately operated, publicly funded school that specializes in educating children with special needs.Bradley and Jill

When Jill brought Bradley on a tour of the Fairmount campus at Kennedy Krieger School Programs, she was immediately impressed with the staff. Instead of addressing her first, the teacher knelt down and spoke directly to Bradley. “I immediately thought, ‘Wow, they are definitely oriented to him and his needs,’” says Jill. By the end of the tour, Jill knew the school was the right fit for Bradley.

When Bradley started attending Fairmount, he struggled at first. He would stand up on his desk, and bite himself and others. “When I met Bradley, he just looked so uncomfortable, like he wanted to crawl out of his skin,” says Lauren Bender, a teacher at the school. “He was very overstimulated and needed a lot of support behaviorally and academically.”

“It was a difficult year,” his mother, Jill Zaukus, admits. But the school provided behavioral support, rewards to encourage positive behavior, and consistent consequences to deter problem behavior.

“At his old school, they would get flustered by his behavior, and Bradley could sense that,” explains Jill. “At Kennedy Krieger, they aren’t fazed by his behavior. They know how to handle it.”

Bradley wearing a train director's gearThe school also taught to Bradley’s learning style. He needed information presented in a structured, visual way, says Bender; for example, pairing a picture with a word or cue, and having a schedule with pictures. “We try to be creative and figure out what’s going to work for each child.”

Bradley also received occupational and speech therapy to help him communicate better. When he needed a break, he learned to communicate that to the teacher, instead of just falling on the floor and having a meltdown as he did before.

Soon, he was able to sit at his desk for an entire lesson, raising his hand and answering questions. “That’s all stuff he’s never been able to do before,” says Jill. “I actually had to come in and see it for myself.”

By third grade, Bradley really began to hit his stride. Bender would email Bradley’s mom and say, “I was just thinking about Bradley, and I think we should try this.”

Bradley wearing a train director's hat“She never gave up on him,” says Jill. “She just felt that he had endless potential—that was what she always told me.” By the end of the year, he received the “Model Student Award” for his class.

Now in fourth grade, not every day is a perfect day for Bradley—he still has ups and downs, but with the help of his teachers and staff at Kennedy Krieger, he is making steady improvements, both behaviorally and academically.

“Bradley is an incredibly bright boy whose potential was untapped,” explains Bender. “It’s our job to see the potential inside and bring it out.”

Bradley is an incredibly bright boy whose potential was untapped. It’s our job to see the potential inside and bring it out.

Lauren Bender, teacher, Kennedy Krieger School Programs