Aaron was five years old when a neighbor called Child Protective Services.

He had been living with his mother and grandmother, who were both doing methamphetamine. Men came in and out of the house at all hours of the day and night.

Aaron had never been to school or daycare. He had not met other children. He mostly watched television all day and ate fast food. He was behind in his social development, gross and fine motor skills and speech and he was overweight.

In foster care, Aaron slept during the day and stayed awake wandering the house at night. He did not know how to peel a banana or what green beans were. He was rough with the other children in the placement, frightening them and sometimes injuring himself. As he began to settle in, his placement enrolled him in school for the first time.

Aaron’s assigned Dallas CASA volunteer Melissa visited him one day in his new kindergarten classroom. His teacher allowed Melissa to observe the class from behind a screen, and they spoke afterward. His teacher shared that Aaron did not pay attention in class and required constant redirection. He could stack blocks but he did not know how to pretend the blocks he stacked were a building, which other kindergarteners do. When he tried to talk to other children, he got too close to them. He could not effectively communicate due to his speech delay, and he did not have anyone he could call a friend. But his teacher also noted his resourcefulness and resolve. He was the first student in the door in the morning, the first to sign in and the first to raise his hand during calendar time. Despite his challenges, he loved school.

His teacher suggested a team meeting with everyone involved, including his CASA volunteer Melissa, the school psychologist, the foster placement and Aaron’s case manager. Together, they created an Individualized Education Plan for Aaron. In the classroom, Aaron’s teacher made accommodations for him. During circle time, he was seated up front to maintain his attention. His teachers gave him directions in small doses, and he was allowed frequent brain breaks. He soon had speech, play and behavioral therapists coming to his school and home. And he had full access to the school psychologist whenever he wanted.

A doctor also evaluated Aaron for ADHD. The doctor said that lingering trauma and ADHD can mimic one another and recommended waiting to medicate or test Aaron for learning differences. His foster placement enrolled him in a developmental soccer class and swim lessons, which took up much of his extra energy after school.

Over the next year, Aaron worked with his therapists and began making progress. His speech and pretend play were the first skills to show noticeable improvement. From there he began making friends and was able to practice the boundaries he learned during behavioral therapy until it felt natural. His developmental soccer class morphed into a fall soccer team, and he was a natural player. Due to a growth spurt, lots of activity and healthful food in his foster placement, he lost weight and grew, bringing his BMI within a healthy range. Academically, he was soon reading alongside his peers, showing no signs of delay.

A year later, now in first grade, Melissa met Aaron for lunch at his school. He came in from recess, hot and sweaty from a playground basketball game with friends. His friends high-fived him, congratulating him on the winning basket during the game, and they agreed to play football the next day. Aaron looked happy, comfortable and confident.

Another year later, Aaron’s foster family adopted him. He continues to be an active boy and excellent athlete, playing multiple sports. His family remains a foster family, though they are not looking to adopt again. Aaron welcomes each foster child into the home with the kind of empathy and understanding that can only come from experience.