The more people we meet, the more I am convinced that hope is contagious. There really is something powerful about bringing hope and love to another person. Hope inspires hope. One of my favorite parts about Jackson’s story is that when he and his family had run out of hope, someone else stepped in and hoped for them with a love so powerful that it has changed the course of their family’s life. Here is their story:
After years of infertility treatments and miscarriages, Jennifer and Tim adopted their son Jackson, who is now 10. Jackson was a joy from the start and truly was the perfect baby who ate well, slept well, and was happy.
Jennifer remembers the time she first noticed that something was different about Jackson:
“When we put him into preschool at age 4, he would act out and tear up other children’s toys. There was an underlying anger or annoyance with him that we couldn’t quite put our finger on. Convincing ourselves it must be the school setting and not our child, we started switching schools and living through the drama of being ‘invited not to return.’”
Over the next several years, Jackson continued to have explosive outbursts that resulted in phone calls to be sent home every few days. Sensory issues began to surface as well, and his parents grasped for ways to help him succeed in school. Various diagnoses were offered up as possible explanations until the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), non-specific mood disorder, sensory processing disorder (SPD), and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) were given. Over the next several years, the norm for Jennifer and Tim was weekly conferences with school staff, along with extensive research and searching for answers. In Jennifer’s words, “Throughout this whole time, we went to every specialist anyone told us about in search of the answers. We threw everything against the wall to see what would stick. Desperation, depression, sadness. I feel like I lost my personality and zest for life.”
Their low point came last year in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with 17 people present, including a behavior specialist who knew which labels were correct and which were not. By the end of the meeting, the label that the school system was asking Jennifer and Tim to sign off on was not who they knew their son was. Jennifer recalled, “We walked out and said he’s not going back. We took him out of school mid-year to homeschool while trying to hold down full time jobs. We were all emotionally, psychologically and spiritually distraught. He thought he was stupid, a bad kid, and even evil. We thought we were awful people and not worthy to be parents.”
The Search for Help with ODD, ADHD, and SPD
Knowing they couldn’t keep up the pace of homeschooling for another year, Jennifer and Tim searched for a school that would fit with Jackson’s needs. Jennifer reflected, “I have always thought in my core that if I could just find the right place for him…if someone just understood how he was wired…if someone who could teach just loved him as much as I did…if the importance of the classroom was teaching and connection instead of paperwork—then there was a hope for his educational future.”
Jennifer and Tim found that place in Jacob’s Ladder, a school that serves students with any kind of neurological disorder. After sitting down with Amy O’Dell, the school’s founder, they knew immediately that it was the place for their son and for them, too. Sending Jackson to Jacob’s Ladder gave Jennifer and Tim the gift of being able to truly exhale for the first time in 6 years.
The teachers and the staff there are uniquely equipped with both the science and methodology to address neurological disorders and genuine love for and belief in their students. Jackson is enrolled in The Hope School at Jacob’s Ladder and is an entirely different person than he was a year ago. Their program has uncovered his kind and sweet spirit and renewed his hope and the hope of his parents. Today, their family laughs together and is happily living life on the offense rather than defense. Because Jackson has learned to monitor himself more often, they freely accept social invitations without feeling the need to have a contingency plan. Jennifer added, “We see him on a daily basis, but our extended family cannot believe the transformation. Jacob’s Ladder has given us back our family, and we are grateful.”
Hope with ODD
If your child has been diagnosed with ODD or another brain or mood-related disorder, Jennifer shares these words of hope from their journey:
“There are always going to be good days, and there are always going to be bad days. Embrace the good day for what it is. Everything goes in phases, and if you can just remember what the good feels like you can get through the bad. I try, I know it’s almost impossible, but I try to spend less time worrying. Worrying brings a whole negative energy that just self perpetuates and leaves a cloud of worry over your child. The thing to do is pray. I prayed so hard for so long and have had so many people praying for us. And pray for yourself, not just for your child. Pray to know what the right things to do are. Pray for the path, and pray for the people to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Trust that God has a plan, and the plan is bigger than you and the plan is bigger than your child. If you just trust what God tells you, then you are on the path to do what you’re supposed to do.”
I absolutely loved gleaning insight from Jennifer and hung on her every word. Their family’s story is such a tangible example that a diagnosis isn’t a sentence on how life will be. We are so thankful for their willingness to share their story of the joy that comes from a life transformed by hope.
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