Our son, Ethan, is an 11-year old in a 22-year old body. He became blind from a tumor on his optic chiasm, numerous brain surgeries and 4 years of chemotherapy since the brain tumor diagnosis at age 9.
As a result, he is also intellectually disabled and suffers from short-term memory deficits, along with several endocrine-related conditions. He also has limited mobility from a stroke and scoliosis.
These complicated and overlapping medical conditions have limited Ethan’s opportunities for growth and development that could be derived from non-profit organizations aimed at supporting individuals with disabilities. He just doesn’t fit neatly into a category; even in special needs circles, he is always the odd man out. Most organizations have programs that address 1 or 2 overlapping conditions but not for anything beyond this threshold. Sadly, from our experience, the instructors always put him off to the side with an aide for one-on-one attention because they have limited capacity to flex their programs to make them more inclusive for someone like our son. In the end, Ethan remains in his own bubble and the programs fail him.
So, although we were hopeful from our first interaction with Carousel Ranch, we’ve been jaded in the past from the myriad of rejections or failures from other non-profits. When we heard about Carousel Ranch we thought, “Okay. Let’s give it a try in spite of it being a 52 mile, hour-long commute each way. But it was going to have to be really good to make it worth our while.”
To our great surprise, the Carousel Ranch Ready-To-Work team were nothing but “all-in” for team Ethan! They were the first to recognize the need to modify their teaching program to accommodate his learning needs and collaborated with our family on how to best incorporate the ways to successfully engage him. They quickly got creative on how to help Ethan remember the names of his new classmates and teachers. They used the social interplay amongst the 3 students to include the use of Ethan’s Braille machine during the lessons. They were masterful when it comes to tapping into what sparks joy for these kids, especially E! Perhaps it’s the small class-size and the creativity of the teachers, but it certainly felt and looked like the learning opportunities were customized towards Ethan’s learning behaviors as well as his classmates’!
And happily, we are seeing proof of the program’s impact on Ethan! Typically, staying focused for more than 1 hour is a challenge. However, on Fridays at RTW, the multi-layered, fully integrated experiences approach to teaching was just what he needed! Ethan comes home after six hours of work but remains fully alert and raring to do more! Normal bed time is 8 pm but Fridays are now a different story! He has energy and focus to spare! Unprompted, other people that he interacts with during the week (e.g., his therapists, trainers and martial arts instructor) have observed improvement is his memory, focus and enthusiasm. He is communicating and interacting with others in ways that make him feel like he belongs! And in an environment like the one created for him at Carousel Ranch, he feels confident, capable and fulfilled!
Even though this program is only 12-weeks, our son’s experience has given him a lifetime of bliss that we hope to build upon in the years ahead. We know that whatever our next steps are from here, they will be better as a result of his time at Carousel Ranch.