Editor’s note: Easy-going. Compassionate. Strong-willed. Adventurous. Helpful. Sensitive. One or more of these words may describe you. They also describe people with developmental disabilities. October is Community Awareness Month and the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities encourages everyone to get to know someone with a disability and ask “What’s Your Story?” Each one of us has a story and each story has the potential to educate and inspire others. “We invite you to enjoy a series of articles highlighting several families involved in our program who would like to share their story with you. Their stories are powerful, meaning, and inspiring,” said Superintendent Laura Zureich.
SIDNEY — Brock Francis, son of Karen and Paul Francis, was just three months old when he had his first seizure. Brock, who is now 5 years old, was diagnosed with epilepsy.
“They also discovered that he had a gene mutation which causes learning delays,” said Karen Francis. “He was missing all his milestones. He didn’t roll over. He didn’t babble. He wasn’t crawling or walking when he should have.”
The family reached out to the Help Me Grow program through their pediatrician.
“They did a home evaluation when Brock was nine or 10 months old,” said Francis. “They referred us to Shelby Hills and the early intervention program.”
After an evaluation through the early intervention program, Brock was admitted into the program. When he began, the early intervention program was called Wee School. Brock is currently attending preschool at the Wilma Valentine Childcare Center.
“He learned how to crawl at Shelby Hills,” said Francis. “That was also the first time ever we saw him do a crawling motion. He took his first steps at Shelby Hills.”
Brock receives occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy through programs at Shelby Hills.
The couple’s second son, Jonah, was born when Brock was 14 months old. Wee School (early intervention) also watched Jonah while Francis was helping Brock.
“When he turned three, we enrolled him in Wilma Valentine Childcare Center,” said Francis. “The collaboration between Shelby Hills and Wilma Valentine is wonderful. That’s of the perks of Wilma Valentine and Shelby Hills. When we walk into Brock’s IED meeting, the daycare staff is also there. The preschool formulates the plan with the input from the daycare staff, my husband and myself.”
When Jonah was old enough, he followed his big brother into the preschool program also.
“This is Jonah’s second year in the preschool program and Brock’s third year,” said Francis. “We’re a unique family where both boys attend the preschool. Jonah has no delays and is a typical child. We chose to send him (Jonah) to Wilma Valentine. They have a great program and we wanted the same for Jonah. They have a loving environment at the preschool.
“They have also helped Jonah understand on how to react and accept Brock the way he is. they’ve taught him that Brock learns differently from him,” said Francis. “they’ve taught him (Jonah) how to play with him (Brock).”
Francis said Brock isn’t always able to communicate what he wants of needs.
“Brock couldn’t tell them he wanted a toy,” said Francis. “He’d take it and if the child took it back, he’d bite them or pull their hair. Shelby Hills and Wilma Valentine has helped him. they’ve also taught Jonah what to do if Brock acts like this. They’ve told Jonah that Brock is not a mean child.”
The Wilma Valentine staff, said Francis, is helping the whole family.
“They are compassionate and loving to our children,” said Francis. “They are at different development levels and it’s difficult for a family to go through this process. there is a nurturing, loving sense about Brock now thanks to them.”
Brock will turn 6 years old in May so he will be ready for kindergarten in the fall of 2017.
“We’re so happy with Shelby Hills and Wilma Valentine,” said Francis, “I’m not quite ready for him to go to kindergarten.”
The couple has begun the process for Brock to attend kindergarten.
“We’re looking at Sidney for kindergarten for him,” said Francis. “We’ve sat down with the special education director and asked the hard questions about what the program would look like for Brock. Our SSA (service and support administrator) also sat in the meeting with Paul and I with the special education director. She hears our questions and will support our decisions.”
Part of the transition process will begin with the staff of Wilma Valentine, she said.
Francis said their family takes life one day at a time.
There’s research into the gene mutation Brock suffers from.
“It’s very rate and there’s not a lot of people with the disease,” said Francis. “Some children with it never leave home. Other children have gone to college and live on their own. We’re just going day by day.
“We never thought he’d learn to crawl or walk, and then he did,” she said. “We’re starting to see signs of conversation with him. Everything is just amazing from both the medical part and the developmental part. We’re getting control of his seizures. As his development grows, we’ll be able to focus more on that. He’s doing just awesome.”
Francis knows the future wouldn’t be as bright as it is for Brock without the services provided at Shelby Hills and Wilma Valentine.
“We don’t know where we’d be without Wilma Valentine,” said Francis. “Brock has friends come up to him and they have smiles on their faces when greeting him. The staff is well trained and knowledgeable on how to handle a child with special needs. The kids there embrace him and his differences.”
Brock has an aide with him at Shelby Hills and Wilma Valentine. He’ll also require an aide when he attends kindergarten.
“During the transition process, the role of the aide might change some,” said Francis. “We want Brock to be as independent as he can be.”
His classroom teacher, aide and personal aide each play an important role in Brock’s life at Shelby Hills.
“They switched roles one day,” said Francis. “The teacher acted as Brock’s aide. they switched roles throughout the week so they all could get to know Brock and his needs. It’s not just the aide’s job to teach Brock.
“We can’t express how thankful we are for the people involved in the program,” she said. “They go above and beyond what’s expected of them. If our sons see them outside of school, they’ll run up to them. They are like another member of our family.”
The staff at Shelby Hills and Wilma Valentine are also thankful Brock is enrolled in their programs.
“Brock is an important member of our class. He likes to be with the other students and he helps us (teachers and students) learn new things every day. We are so happy that he is in our class this year,” said his classroom teacher Marlean Ohlwiler, and her assistants, Andrea Fullenkamp and Stacey Lammers.
“Brock has been attending the Wilma Valentine Childcare Center for two years and enjoy seeing his skills develop,” said Kim Cummins, program coordinator for Willma Valentine Childcare. “We have seen him grow into a child who can have brief conversations, can sit in a chair for an extended amount of time, and can follow 1 and 2 step directions. He has formed attachments to the staff and enjoys playing alongside of his friends. We are so excited to see what skills he masters in the coming school year!”
The Francis couple is also thankful for the Parents Night Out program operated by Shelby County Arc, which is a nonprofit, United Way agency. Parents Night Out is a fun, free program for children with developmental disabilities and their siblings, all under the age of 12. It is held once a month, September through April, and each evening offers a meal and supervised activities for the children and gives parents and caregivers four hours of free time.
“That has been a lifesaver for us too,” said Francis. “When things gt difficult with Brock or we’ve been up all night with him, we’re able to take the boys to Wilma Valentine for Parents Night Out. It’s a time where we don’t have to worry about his care.
“And it gives Paul and i a chance to have adult conversation, which is a key to a marriage,” she said.
Early Intervention, Shelby Hills and Community & Support Services are divisions under the Shelby County Board of DD. All three services have provided support for Brock and his family.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.