Four family members of children with special needs offer What I Wish I Knew Then.

The oldest of Mike and Laura’s three children, Brandon, was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck several times.

He suffered two seizures within his first couple of hours and was left with right side cerebral palsy and spasticity.

“The doctors told us they did not know if Brandon would survive and were very upfront about letting us know that if he did, he could have some mental and physical challenges. The first few days, we were in shock. We cried and prayed a lot and really did not know what to expect,” says Mike.

“We started therapy within the first few months of Brandon’s life. What had been shock and uncertainty turned into hope.”

What is the best thing you did for Brandon?
We did our best to get Brandon all of the most current therapy. We did braces with rubber bands to stretch his hand out, we’ve done electric shock stimulation and started Botox in its early stages of use for spasticity. He currently wears some relatively new technology called a Walk Aid that electronically stimulates the muscles in his leg when he walks to improve his gait.

We also pushed him to be as active as possible. He played T-ball at Junior Deputy, basketball in the Upward program at Calvary Baptist, earned a black belt in taekwondo, participated in Cub Scouts and ran track for ACCESS in the Special Olympics. We believe that this is where he gets his love for being involved in things.

Before COVID-19, you would find him in the concession stand at Catholic High during football and basketball games. While at ACCESS he loved to work the plant sales and still shows up to help out from time to time. He is a Knight in the Knights of Columbus and sits on the board at ACCESS Schools.

What do you wish you would have done differently?
We always have doubts about whether or not we have done all we could have for Brandon. … "Have we done too much for him? Sheltered him too much? or Have we set him up to live on his own someday?" Our goal is for Brandon to be involved in the community, live on his own and support himself.

Aftering he hearing from his father about the challenges Brandon has overcome, we knew we wanted to learn more, from Brandon himself.

Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m 28 years old and have right side cerebral palsy. I am able to drive. I have a truck that has been modified with a left side gas pedal and a steering knob. After I graduated from ACCESS, I studied and earned my GED.

Where do you work? Are you in school?
I work at Roller Funeral Homes in the information technology department. I was blessed to be offered a job by Renata Byler 12 years ago and have loved working there ever since.

I am taking college classes at University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College and am working on a computer information degree.

What are your hobbies?
One of my hobbies is bowling. I am in a bowling league that takes place on Saturdays. I also enjoy volunteering at Catholic High School working in the concession stand during football and basketball season. I am currently a third degree knight in the Knights of Columbus. Before COVID-19 started, I was an usher at our church.

How long have you been bowling?
This season is my fourth year to bowl in a league. Prior to that, I bowled occasionally, with family or friends.

What are your plans for the future?
My plans are to finish college and someday buy a house of my own.

How did you learn to drive a car?
When I first started driving, we went to empty parking lots. At this time, I didn’t have a left-footed gas pedal or steering knob. It was a little hard to do with my right foot. I also had a brace that obstructed my range of motion to be able to press the pedal after a certain point.

We had a friend that told us about Baptist Health Rehabilitation Clinic. They had me do different tests, such as range of motion. They had devices that would calculate how long I was able to press the button, like I would be driving.

Once all of that was finished, they had a car set up to be driven with the right foot first. After a few minutes, the instructor installed a device for my left foot. We went around the block then further down the road.

Accessibility Specialties is the company that installed the left-footed gas pedal and steering knob in the car that I would drive.

You sit on the board of ACCESS Schools. What is that experience like?
It’s a great honor to sit on the board. I appreciate the opportunity to give back to ACCESS and hope that I have something to contribute that helps ACCESS in the future.

What advice do you have for parents of kids with special needs?
Let the kids try to do the task before you help them. Give them a few minutes to see if they are struggling. Then ask if they want assistance.

What do you wish people knew about people with your diagnosis?
That we are capable of doing anything we set our minds to. We may walk or pick things up a little differently, but I am just like them otherwise. I don’t think of myself as having a disability, just a couple of physical challenges.

Also that I don’t mind talking about my disability. Once I let someone know what my disability is, everyone is more comfortable.

What advice do you have for other Special Family children?
Don’t let your disability get in the way of doing anything you want to do.