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Realizing Potential Through Early Intervention: Ellie’s Journey at ACCESS

Story by Heather and Ben Honaker

We were first introduced to ACCESS when our daughter Ellie was about six weeks old. She was born with Down syndrome and a number of other complex medical conditions that kept her in the hospital. She had never been outside to breathe natural air, but the team at ACCESS was already at work, propping up her parents and formulating a plan to get her body strong enough to keep her alive through her next open-heart surgery.

People tell us all the time that they don’t know how we do it, with our medically-fragile and strong-willed child. We always say that we are JUST Ellie’s parents. She has a whole army of people behind her, some we have never even met, who keep her moving forward and are teaching her how to take over the world.

From rolling over, using her mouth to swallow instead of feeding her through a tube that ran directly to her stomach, sitting up, stacking, grabbing and playing to walking then running, jumping, balancing, using a spoon and scissors, listening, sitting at circle time and saying “Mama,” this army at ACCESS is who we have to thank.

There is no doubt that the Ellie we have today would not be here if we hadn’t had the incredible staff at ACCESS five years ago. Whether they are pushing us from behind to remind us to put one foot in front of the other, holding our hand to navigate a world we don’t know anything about, or leading the way by tearing down barriers, Ellie’s success is at the heart of everything they do.

Ellie is a detailed, kind, curious and creative child who wakes up every day with two goals: to move at full-speed and to take 100% advantage of all of the opportunities in front of her. She loves hard, she loves her teachers and friends, and, most importantly to us, she loves herself.

The teachers and therapists believe in her, so she believes too. She is given goals and is held accountable, just like any typical kid, and she relishes in the responsibility. She moves through the world like she is ten feet tall and so sure of her place at the top. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t walk out of that school to the car rider line with the swagger of a high school senior – and we have ACCESS to thank for that.

When a kid like Ellie is born, her parents hear all about the things that this child won’t do. She won’t walk or talk. She won’t be able to nurse or suck on a bottle. She won’t be able to control her head. She won’t be healthy. She won’t be able to go to typical classrooms or dance class or run and play. These won’ts take hold in parents’ fears and are all we know. She won’t have her own family. She won’t be the same as others. She won’t be accepted. She won’t be happy.

But ACCESS proves the naysayers wrong. Ellie is spinning, dancing, yelling proof of that. ACCESS completely changed the game for us and does so for families like ours every day. ACCESS’s staff, teachers, therapists, and volunteers take away what keeps us up at night and show us that it just isn’t true.

The work that the team at ACCESS does every single day is nothing short of life-changing. The impact that this school has on kids is immeasurable, the support they give to us parents is a gift that is impossible to repay, and all of that has a ripple effect out into our community and the world.

Because of ACCESS, so many know how to love and develop a child with special needs. The school’s compassion and ability to look beyond the limits is what gives our kids the confidence to take their due seat at the table and what gives those of us who love these kids the confidence to let them be who they are.