Finding Brady's Voice
When Anne Thomas remembers hearing her six-year-old son say “Mom, I love you” for the first time she still feels goosebumps. “After spending the first years of his life with no way to communicate, Brady’s ability to use a communication device to express his feelings and wants was a tremendous blessing.”
Brady, who is now 17, experienced a traumatic delivery and suffered a seizure soon after he was born. “Brady was officially diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when he was a year old. Early on we knew he would have lifelong challenges, but we were unaware of what degree,” Anne said. “I have been blessed with a wonderful husband, Blake, who is very supportive and a team player. Our youngest son, Matthew is 12 years old and a typical healthy kid. We are both committed one hundred percent to our sons and their care. Blake and I joke that Matthew keeps us on our toes in different ways.” Anne recalled that after being accustomed to Brady not crawling when Matthew started moving about she thought “Oh, my! What am I getting in to?” She further explained how the family handles the responsibilities of their sons. “I didn’t return to work after Brady was born due to his care. Blake and I have a divide and conquer approach with our boys. It’s a team effort.”
Life experiences for Brady, who is nonverbal and visually impaired, flourished after a communication device was introduced and he could express his feelings and wants. “This was truly life changing for Brady,” Anne said. “We realized when he was younger that he laughed at appropriate times and connected with others. We began searching for a way for him to communicate and through referrals met Michelle Lange, an Occupational Therapist.”
The Thomas family considers Michelle and Speech Pathologist Jill Tullman Brady’s Dream Team. “Early on Michelle recognized the same spark in Brady that we had seen,” Anne said. “She introduced us to all of the equipment options available. It was critical for Brady to be positioned correctly to use a communication device. Because he is visually impaired, he couldn’t see the screen of the device as well as he needed to; his hands and his arms are challenged so he couldn’t use those the way he wanted to, but he could definitely use his forehead! Michelle set him up with a head switch and private speaker on the headrest of his wheelchair. Jill programmed the device with relevant vocabulary. Once Brady was connected he immediately let us know he understood what was going on around him.”
It soon became obvious how much vocabulary he needed and his mother remembers one of Brady’s favorite phrases: “What are my choices?” The communication device was empowering to a young boy who, for all of his life, had everyone else was making choices for him.
“Brady’s motor skills are limited and he is nonverbal but he’s very good with his communication device,” said Michelle Lange, his occupational therapist for more than ten years. “He listens to his choices that only he can hear and then he selects sentences. I see Brady in his home and often he has prepared sentences with information or questions before I arrive.
“It can be easy to underestimate a client like Brady and as his therapist the burden is on me to remember who this young man is.” Lange also emphasized that Brady and his family are a vivid reminder to clinicians and suppliers to remember that beyond equipment, funding hassles, accessibility and other issues, there is a family. A family trying to do life as best they can with school, bills, extended family as well as a child who has very significant needs.”
“We are so grateful to have had Michelle and Jill as well as others supporting us in meeting Brady’s needs,” Anne said. “Our first interaction with a speech therapist was when Brady was in preschool. We had a consultation and although we could see Brady connect cause and effect, he was so physically challenged, he was unable to demonstrate that. We were disappointed the therapist didn’t see this connection.
As a parent I am glad for other professionals who had an open mind to possibilities and were willing to look ‘outside the box’ for solutions. If we had gone with the first opinion, Brady may not have had the powerful opportunity to communicate. My advice to others who find themselves in a situation similar to ours is:If you believe your child is being underestimated, keep searching for a team who can help you and your child. You know your child best.”
Brady Thomas will graduate from Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado in May of 2017. “The students Brady has gone to school with since Kindergarten will be moving on to college or community college. Each taking a step after graduation,” Brady’s mother said. “Our family has been considering what Brady’s next step will be. We are fortunate that our school district offers a program called the Bridge Program for special needs students aged eighteen to twenty-one.” Brady and his parents feel this program will be a good fit. The daily program is located close to Brady’s home and puts an emphasis on life skills such as job coaching. The students will also make trips out into the community three times a week. Different levels of instruction and support are offered based on individual needs.
“Our goal is for Brady to be able to advocate for himself when family isn’t around, and we hope this program will help accomplish this.” The extension of appropriate education for individuals with special needs is provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal legislation ensures students with a disability are provided with free appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs. One component of IDEA is services such as those offered by the Bridge Program to coordinate the transition between school and post school activities, such as secondary education, vocational training, employment and independent living.
Realizing the importance of maintaining balance in their lives, the Thomas family makes time for fun and recreation. “Brady is a huge Denver Broncos fan, and we’ve been to a few of their games. We are fortunate to have family fairly close and during football season we do a lot of football parties,” Anne said. “Brady is a Rockies fan, too, so we also attend some of the Colorado Rockies baseball games. I suppose you could say generally we are big on sports. Matthew plays soccer, Blake is his coach, and Brady likes to go to his brother’s games.
However, Brady Thomas is more than a spectator when it comes to sports. For the past 10 years he has played for Sports Made Possible, a Denver adaptive baseball league. “This organization has a fabulous field that is rubberized and accessible to kids in wheelchairs or using walkers. The surface is also great for kids who are mobile.” Anne explained. “Brady started with this league in the second grade. Participants are paired with a volunteer buddy, and the league has games every Saturday.” Other Unified sports teams at Brady’s high school are coached by the Special Education teacher and play competitively against teams from other high schools. “The Unified sports program at Mountain Vista pairs team members with peer volunteers,” Anne said.
“Our family enjoys vacation time, too,” Anne said. “Brady loves all things Disney so we try to make it to a Disney park at least every other year. Our extended family vacations at Cocoa Beach, Florida almost every summer. Brady likes the beach and spending time with his cousins. The resort has a beach wheelchair that we can use to get close to the water. These visits to the beach as a family have created special memories for all of us.” A family of faith, the Thomases have been touched by a very supportive extended family as well as wonderful friends,” Anne said.
A special individual in many ways, Brady Thomas has been described as a hard worker and very involved in life. Clearly the combined support of his extended Dream Team - committed therapists and caregivers; a loving family and friends; his community – has made a positive difference in his life that will extend beyond the milestone of high school graduation. There is no doubt that their investment in this young man is well-placed.
Anne Thomas may be reached at email@example.com
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