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High Hopes Offers Hope to Families of Children with Special Needs

Layla McCormac has the same energy, enthusiasm and inquisitive spirit you would expect with any 2-year-old child. During a recent visit, she could barely sit still in her mother’s lap long enough to take photos. Once her mother set her back on the floor, Layla was out of the living room and scooting down the hall, something that would have been impossible months ago. Layla has a rare genetic disorder called GNB1 that affects her muscles and movement. Her parents noticed early on that something was wrong.

Last year, after extremely expensive genetic testing—the bill was $70,000—the McCormacs got the diagnosis.

“A lot of people compare it to muscular dystrophy,” Amy says. “Layla has low muscle tone in her legs. She can’t crawl or walk. She can’t talk either, so we think she has low muscle tone that affects her speech.”

The McCormacs began seeking help and found the nonprofit Franklin-based organization High Hopes. It serves Williamson County but also helps other children across Tennessee.

Since going to High Hopes, Layla’s progress has been amazing.

“High Hopes has strengthened her core section, so she’s able to sit up and now scoot across the floor like that. She’s just learned to do that in the last three to four months,” Amy says. “She can’t stand by herself, but they have so many contraptions and things they use.”

High Hopes was started in 1984 by five families who had children with special needs. They created a preschool that brought children with special needs together with typically developing children, mainly so siblings could stay together.

Gail Powell, executive director for High Hopes says the idea was ahead of its time.

“They didn’t know they were starting a research-based model,” she says. “This model produces great results, and we work hard to meet everyone’s needs.”

Layla’s father, Matt, says Layla’s benefited greatly from being able to attend the preschool where she can interact with other children.

“Versus taking her to a day care where they’re just going to put her on the floor or in a playpen away from the rest of the kids because they don’t want the other kids to run over her—High Hopes understands the needs of children like Layla and knows how to get her involved,” he says.

In addition to the preschool, High Hopes offers an array of other services.

“We also have a pediatric therapy clinic on-site, and in that clinic, we have physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapies,” Gail says. “One hundred percent of the children on the therapy side have special needs. The diagnoses include developmental delays, speech delays, children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome … we have served children with about 50 diagnoses.”

Layla, like so many other children, has several different types of therapy.

“Development encompasses so many things in a child’s life, such as sitting and crawling, walking and jumping, grasping a toy or food, communicating their wants and needs, and interacting with their peers,” Gails says. “Many of our kids have challenges in one or more of these areas. High Hopes is here to help.”

“Without High Hopes, Layla wouldn’t be where she is today,” Amy says. “She’s been there since she was 6 months old and her therapists have done so much for her. She’s very smart. She knows her colors. At therapy, they’ll say pick the red one, and she’ll go for the red one. She knows her animals. We know she’s very smart, she just can’t communicate yet.”

While High Hopes is nonprofit, it does generate revenue through tuition for the preschool and fees for therapy visits. Still, the organization has to raise $600,000 per year to cover these program costs.

While the McCormacs aren’t sure what the future holds for Layla, they know she’s right where she needs to be.

“Her doctors say she’s really progressing,” Amy says. “We love High Hopes. The therapists are all so helpful. And having the school part of it, too—where they can come get her out of class, do a session, take her back, let her eat lunch, take a nap, then another therapist comes in and gets her—has been great.”

Gail says, “We get to see miracles happen every day. Lives are changed here, and it is very exciting!”

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