Thank you for your time today and the opportunity to tell you about my daughter. I am writing on behalf of No Limits Academy and how this school has had a positive impact on her.
My daughter was born 20 years ago with cerebral palsy, a chronic condition affecting her muscle motor skills. She uses a wheelchair and must have physical therapy to keep her muscles stretched and strong. It was humbling as a young father to grasp the reality that my child would grow up with special needs. Every parent is an advocate for their children, but being a parent of a child with special needs means that you are an advocate on steroids. However, there is no roadmap for all the challenges that will be faced. Every facet of life is simply more complicated – transportation, housing, healthcare, childcare, education. You do your best, hope you are doing it right, and if you are lucky, you find other parents who are in a similar situation and you team up to address the issues and challenges together.
Education and the public school system was one of the biggest challenges we faced. I watched my daughter, who is very smart, learn to hate school. She dreaded leaving for school each and every morning because she knew she was entering an environment where she was not accepted because she was different. It was evident to her, even at a very early age, that the environment was not made for her, nor would accommodations be made. One elementary school even told me that I needed to move my daughter to another school because they no longer knew how to teach her and she was single-handedly affecting their “A” rating. How am I to digest that, let alone explain that to my young daughter? At her new school, they did offer physical and occupational therapy, but chose to pull her out of classroom instruction for therapy instead of using recess or PE time. This hurt my daughter in two very significant ways. First, she lost valuable classroom instruction and was made to bring her work home. However, she failed most assignments because she did not know how to complete it as she was not present when the instructions were given. So, through no fault of her own, she was labeled a failing student. Second, she had to go to recess and PE, but could not participate in either due to lack of accommodations. She sat on the sidelines with no social interaction with her peers. I watch as my daughter lost confidence in herself both academically and socially – she felt she was letting me down because she was failing and had no friends. She was only 9 years old. And I felt I was failing as a parent.
I met Laura Joslin in 2005 by chance one day. She was running a successful physical therapy center and told me about her sons, both of whom have cerebral palsy, and the private school her younger son was attending. The class only had four students, and classroom time and therapy time were scheduled so as to not interfere with each other. Laura was a wealth of information and eager to help other parents. She provided information on how to secure the McKay scholarship so that I could transfer my daughter out of public school and into this private school. With Laura’s help and the support of the teachers at this new school, I watched my daughter’s confidence begin to turn around. She was beginning to enjoy learning. And she found herself in an environment that accepted her disability and provided accommodations. She was fitting in.
When Laura decided to open her own school for children with cerebral palsy and other neuro-muscular disabilities, I was eager to enroll my daughter as one of her first students. I respect Laura’s philosophy on education, therapy, and social well-being of children with disabilities. And I had learned so much from her advocacy and for navigating the tricky healthcare, support, and educational systems.
No Limits Academy is an innovative school and through Laura’s vision, it has created an environment that fosters a love of learning, embraces acceptance and advocacy, promotes self-sufficiency, and provides for the social well-being of the students. The different kinds of therapy, including physical, occupational and speech, are integrated into the student’s day in a way that does not affect learning time. The school offers a program that allows a student to learn at her own pace and is customized to her style of learning, while providing a warm and welcoming classroom experience that encourages teamwork and collaboration. The teachers hired by Laura are true gifts and have a love for this population. They have enhanced the lives of each student through their coaching and mentorship. The growth I have witnessed in my daughter is remarkable. Her self-confidence is in a healthy place. She looks forward to going to school every morning to learn something new. She is an A-student who completes her assignments early. My daughter will be graduating this year with not only a regular Brevard county high school diploma, but one with honors! She is now dual-enrolled in college and taking her first two college courses.
My daughter’s social well-being is strong. No Limits Academy provided an environment where she learned to make friends and express herself. She was the class president for several consecutive years, and still organizes the Thanksgiving luncheon with the students, teachers, therapists, and parents. She has become a strong advocate for all persons with disabilities, and welcomes opportunities to tell her story to educate those around her. The social skills she has gained from this school has helped her prepare for the next chapter in her life. She is an active volunteer at Promise in Brevard, a non-profit organization developing a residential community for adults with special needs. She is a marketing intern at this organization and helps promote their thrift shop, participates in fundraising activities, and talks about what the project means to her at different functions. She is looking forward to moving into the community when it opens in the spring of 2017.
When she was in elementary school, I never dared to dream this far, and now I am a very proud father enjoying the world of possibilities that No Limits Academy has helped open for my daughter. They have given her the skills and tools to be a contributing member of her local community, both economically and socially. Quite simply, they have helped my daughter gain the ability to live a full, meaningful, productive and healthy life. I am forever thankful that Laura joined our lives and shared her journey with all of us.
Thank you for your time to learn about our challenges and what it means to be a parent of a child with special needs. And thank you for the opportunity to share my families’ experience with No Limits Academy and the positive impact it has had on the lives it serves.
At 10 years of age Amanda just found her voice via keyboards and we believe that without No Limits Academy and all these blessings this wouldn’t have happened! No Limits Academy is truly a place where MIRACLES do come true!
Amanda’s Mom and Dad