Autistic son inspires mom to earn master’s degree to benefit others

Nicole Buono sits on a front porch with her husband and her four children.

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iving at the Connecticut boarding school where her husband teaches, Nicole Buono, MAT `19, sees children from kindergarten through ninth grade all across campus. She watches them glide into friendships and memories every day. 

However, when her oldest son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism in 2017, Buono learned a lesson as valuable for a mother as it is for an educator.

“Whether you’re parenting or teaching children, things don’t always go according to plan,” she said. 

A certified elementary school teacher and mother of four, Buono had taken time off to raise her children. She planned to return to the classroom when they got older, but her son’s diagnosis altered that course. 

Buono recalls attending Michael’s first planning and placement team (PPT) meeting, and the various testing and therapies that followed. The process was overwhelming.

“I can’t imagine being a parent who doesn’t understand all of the terminologies,” she said. “You may leave feeling defeated and hopeless.”

Buono’s experience compelled her to pursue a master’s in special education so she could work with special needs children and help their families navigate what can be a confusing and emotionally draining experience. She knew it would be hard to find a program that worked around her busy schedule and offered K-12 certification. 

In Quinnipiac’s online MS in Special Education, she found both.

“There were no specific times I had to be at the computer, and I had all my dates for assignments from the start,” Buono said.

Buono tackled assignments during her children’s nap times and play dates, and later completed her teaching practicum at the public school they attend. She also was able to get an important extension when her fourth child was born.

“I really felt supported by my professors,” Buono said. “They were fine with me submitting my work when I could.”

In addition to studying behavioral disorders, learning disabilities and education law, the program taught Buono that all children can learn and grow. Going forward, she plans to work as an interventionist, providing academic and behavioral support to special needs and learning disabled students. 

“This is what made me want to be a teacher to begin with,” Buono said. “It gives me hope to know that I can make a difference.”

Buono doesn’t have to look far to affirm her inspiration. Two years after his diagnosis, Michael will start first grade this fall.