When pregnant with Jacob, Amy O’Dell received devastating news – her son’s life was in grave danger and his growth and development were compromised. This diagnosis put Amy on a life-changing journey to find hope for her son, and ultimately to share her discoveries with more than 4,000 children facing similar challenges.
Amy is the founder of Jacob’s Ladder, a private school established to meet the specific needs of children with neurological disorders. When doctors couldn’t provide Amy with the level of guidance she needed to help Jacob grow and thrive, she built on her experience in therapy and counseling and achieved certification as a neurodevelopment consultant. After five years of working with Jacob and a handful of students out of her home, Amy opened Jacob’s Ladder in 1998 in Roswell, Ga.
Amy and the leaders at Jacob’s Ladder believe that great potential lies within each child, regardless of diagnosis. They have built a school that serves and educates children with developmental delays, seizure disorders, genetic or chromosomal diagnoses, or emotional/social/behavioral disorders using an array of interventions, helping each child maximize his or her potential. Students achieve milestones once thought impossible thanks to a customized curriculum that provides consistent, intense interaction and stimulation to meet their specific needs.
This year marks the 20th year anniversary of Jacob’s Ladder providing therapy and hope. Their students’ successes are their most meaningful accomplishments, like that of nine-year-old Connor, who came to Jacob’s Ladder from San Diego at the age of six with severe challenges. After a successful part-time intensive therapy program, the family moved to Georgia so that Connor could participate in full-time therapy. In three years, Connor went from crawling to standing and walking with support. Connor is now working on functional communication, utilizing his reading ability to communicate.
Stories like Connor’s are plentiful among Jacob’s Ladder students, garnering the attention of many groups that want to draw on Amy’s expertise. Governor Nathan Deal appointed Amy to serve on the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency as the expert in the field of autism, she currently serves on the Zac Brown Camp Southern Ground board of advisors for the autism focus, and she is on the board of directors for the Healthcare Institute for National Renewal and Innovation.
With all of Amy’s professional achievement, she still thinks of herself as the student and Jacob as her teacher. “Jacob continues to grow and excel. The child who could not retain five letters of the alphabet at five and six can now read and comprehend at a 12th grade level. The child who struggled to stand and walk loves to run, wrestle and play football. The nonverbal child now expresses himself eloquently. The sensory play is gone. He is now preparing for his future following high-school graduation, with plans to attend college. I refer to Jacob as my teacher. We had to work diligently in virtually every area to strengthen and increase his level of functioning. While it has been hard work and quite difficult at times, I wouldn’t change one thing about this process with him. We take nothing for granted. We are thankful daily for each new thing he learns and each new way that he now excels.”
If you want to be part of life-changing experiences like Jacob’s, the school is always looking for enthusiastic individuals to join them. You can find volunteer opportunities on their website, or you can provide financial support for Jacob’s Ladder and the families that they serve.
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