Autism Success Stories: Diego’s Accomplishments

Daniella Mini, a proud mother of a successful young man, reflects on her son Diego’s journey as he approaches his 30th birthday. With so many of his accomplishments to choose from, Daniella decided to highlight three that stand out among his major successes.

These achievements reflect Diego’s hard work and dedication. Daniella hopes her story will inspire others to recognize the value of support, understanding, and acceptance in helping their loved ones succeed.

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Diego’s acceptance to Riverview School

When Diego was 19, he applied to a post-secondary program at Riverview School, a boarding school for students with complex language and learning needs.

We had visited the school and loved it. Diego’s dearest buddy, Owen, whom he’d met at summer camp years before, was there. 

Getting into Riverview, however, was a long shot, the equivalent of a “reach school” for college-bound youth. 

Diego didn’t fit the profile because his cognitive and academic skills were lower than the average student’s, and his support needs were higher. But, you see, he aced the interview! 

I had never witnessed Diego staying so firmly on topic, sitting up confidently as if he owned the room, making beautiful eye contact, and selling himself the way he did at that interview. 

When the admissions letter arrived, we were all jumping up and down and hollering as if he’d gotten into Harvard. Diego’s two years at Riverview were a dream come true for him.

Diego’s training graduation

Then there’s Diego’s Coffee for Good (CFG) graduation. When Diego was 27, he began working at a coffee shop in our town that serves as a training platform for adults with developmental disabilities. 

The purpose is for the trainees to develop the necessary job skills to transition to other employment. 

Diego is the trainee who took the longest to graduate. He’s a joy, and his attitude and work ethic are enviable, but he needs loads of repetition to learn new skills. And guess what? That is fine! 

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Not everything must happen on a schedule or by a specific date. It’s often more important to be consistent and to do things with love and pride. That’s exactly how Diego does things.

Diego graduated, of course, and now he has two jobs. He works at our town’s library café and continues to work at CFG during hard-to-fill shifts. His employment is and might always be supported — and that’s ok. 

He continues to learn, contribute to his community, and treat every person he serves with respect and kindness.

Diego’s love for running

The third success story is ongoing. I began to run with Diego over a decade ago.

At first, the distance was short, and Diego needed heaps of praise and reinforcement (like an ice cream or special treat). Over time, Diego’s endurance and distance grew while the reinforcement count shrank. 

Diego now loves to run 5Ks. Every year, we have to run our town’s Turkey Trot, Memorial Day Run, Jingle Bell Jog, and the fundraiser 5K for Abilis, the nonprofit agency that serves Diego.

He beams with joy and pride when he ascends the podium to get his medal for being one of the few Abilis clients to finish.

Diego also runs with our state’s chapter of Achilles International, an organization that supports athletic programs for people with disabilities.

He gets to run with volunteers whom he can dazzle with his knowledge of animals, countries, and birthdays. They don’t mind if they don’t get a turn to talk!

Diego likes to run. The exercise makes him feel good physically

But what keeps him motivated is the running community: the volunteers who guide him, the before-and-after of a 5K, the photo op, the stampede of runners, and the special time with his mom on our weekly runs.

Let your child succeed at their own pace

When our sons and daughters are school-age, we stress about measurable progress, performance gaps, and catching up, as if growth grinds to a halt once they turn 21. If you’re a parent who’s still at that stage, know this: It does not.

My son, for one, has blossomed in his twenties. I know he will continue racking up successes, inspiring us to celebrate one another’s unique strengths and wins.

Daniella shares her parenting and special education journey and opinions on her website,

Diego and his mom

This article was featured in March 2024 Autism and Travel: Family Getaways

If you have a success story you would like to share with us and our readers, you can email it to us or submit your story here.


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