Denise Mullins went to pick up her son from the Speech and Language Development Center in Buena Park, where he was newly enrolled, and was moved by what she saw.
Several kids walked toward Mullins' son, who uses a wheelchair, and yelled, "Hi, Giovanni!" The non-verbal 11-year-old responded by signing "Hi."
"I said, 'You know, that's the setting I want my son in,' " Mullins said. "It was a really good moment to see your kid be part of a social network."
Before attending the Buena Park center, Giovanni needed some prompting to respond to others, his mother said.
He had trouble communicating because of strokes he suffered as a newborn. Since Giovanni arrived at the Speech and Language Development Center his communication skills have improved and he is less frustrated because he can more easily get his point across, Mullins said.
"He has made amazing progress," Mullins said. "He is much more friendly [and] social. He is more inclined to say hi to you."
The center teaches and provides therapy to children, teenagers and adults with disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome, seizure disorders and more. Many have multiple disabilities.
"For us literacy isn't just the reading of the word but understanding it and making use of it," said Dawn O'Connor, the school's chief executive.
During a recent rest break after a class, Giovanni draped his fingers across a tablet computer to play a game associated with colors. Giovanni, wearing a white motocross shirt, signed that he liked the school, his teachers — and dirt bikes.
The center, which serves about 275 students, received a grant from the L.A. Times Family Fund for this school year, said Ray H. Bell, the school's director of development. The money helped the school purchase literacy-learning software and pay for staff training, he said.
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, nearly $450,000 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The Holiday Campaign, part of the L.A. Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofits that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, are at risk of illiteracy or have limited English proficiency.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission.
Donate at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.