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BR Parents: Exceptional Lives - Different, Not Less: A Mother’s Advocacy for Her Son with Autism

A diagnosis of autism can turn a family upside down, and that was the case for William Spiller IV when he was diagnosed at age two. Because he didn’t speak or respond, doctors first thought his hearing was the problem, but an auditory brainstem response test proved his hearing was fine.The school system where they lived at the time wanted to label William as having mild mental retardation, which didn’t sit well with his mother Naisha Brignac. Another parent suggested she have him tested for Fragile X, or mutated chromosome. That test was negative as well and helped doctors determine William does not have a mental disability but instead has autism.“After I got the diagnosis, I was devastated,” Naisha says. “I just wanted him to be healed and cured from autism.” As time went on, Naisha has come to embrace William’s differences and celebrate milestones, even if they come later. Now 13, William was potty trained at five and started speaking in full sentences around age six.Wi…

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid Thomas O'Connor

When Thomas O’Connor participated in Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge, he didn’t know just how useful his business would be during the global pandemic and its disruptions to learning. As part of the academy, Thomas, a 16-year-old sophomore at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, launched Face Tutor, an app that connects students with tutors in real time. “It will allow a student to talk to a tutor and see a tutor,” Thomas says. Most other tutoring apps are text-based, which can be harder for students to grasp concepts.Even before Zoom became a household word, Thomas realized its video chat feature could help student understanding. Providing 24/7 access, meaning students can get help at night using tutors in different time zones, is also a goal for Thomas.Face Tutor won the academy’s investor panel competition, and Thomas received $5,000 to invest in developing the app. Thomas’ mentor, Kasra Khalili, helped him develop and perfect his presentation for the panel.“The in…

BR Parents: September 2020

As Education and Community sections editor, I wrote pages 16-23 and page 28 of the September2020 issue of Baton Rouge Parents magazine (except the Parkview Baptist brief on page 20). See the web layout on the magazine's website.

BR Parents Blog: A Lazy Lament - I Hate Making Dinner

After months of varying degrees of lockdowns and quarantines, we all have a better idea of what it means to be a stay-at-home parent. And while the time of truly staying home isn’t an accurate picture of normal times when we can actually take our children out, I hope we all have more compassion for parents who stay home with their littles. The idea that it’s an easy or lazy choice has always been untrue. Caring for kids full-time is exhausting.I’ve worked from home in varying capacities and commitment levels for several years, gradually ramping up my work commitments as my children have grown and started in school programs. Being a trapped-at-home mom has been a very different experience for me, but knowing that everyone is in the same storm helped manage the disappointment of canceled plans and lack of ability to take my children here, there and everywhere as I normally would.Something that hasn’t changed in this time has been the continued need to feed my family. Althou…

BR Parents Blog: Adventures in Orthodontia Begin

Snaggle tooth was a nickname I was called growing up, and my parents’ investment in braces is one of the monetary gifts for which I’m most grateful. My husband also had braces going up, so we were not at all surprised to learn that our eight year old would need her own. We had been putting aside money to make the investment ourselves, and we expect the same for little sister, although her baby teeth are just as straight as can be.

I was in third grade when I had my first round of braces, and my daughter had hers put on this summer, just before she started third grade. But for COVID, her braces would have been put on earlier in the summer. Our consultation with the orthodontist was the very last appointment before the stay-at-home orders took effect in mid-March. I’m still not comfortable going to a dentist or doctor, but part of accepting life as it is now is accepting there are some risks I can’t avoid. Life has to go on somehow. I know my daughter’s teeth need better alignment for…

BR Parents: Exceptional Lives - Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Advocacy Leads to Unique Preschool Launch

Katrina Rivers Labouliere doesn’t feel like her life is particularly exceptional despite her years of advocacy work with the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community. “I just feel like I am a catalyst for creating programs and making things happen and pulling together a team,” she says. “Team Blue, my team, they deserve the credit. They work tirelessly and trust every idea I come up with. I have an amazing team of passionate people.”Labouliere’s team is expanding in the Baton Rouge area with the creation of Blue Bridge Academy, a language immersion daycare and preschool for American Sign Language (ASL) and English that is scheduled to open later this year.The idea for the school was planted long ago. The oldest child of two Deaf parents, Labouliere’s first language is ASL, and she studied communication disorders in college. “Early on in my career, working in education I saw the disparities of children with disabilities, but my main focus was children with hearing loss,” Laboulie…

BR Parents: One Amazing Kid - Maddie Wilson

Turning 14 this month, Maddie Wilson already has experience as an attorney through Teen Court of Greater Baton Rouge. The diversion program helps teen offenders stay out of the judicial system and lower rates of recidivism. Starting ninth grade at St. Joseph’s Academy, Maddie has been part of Teen Court since fifth grade and was the youngest volunteer attorney.“I prepare a line of questioning, get to know the defendant and work to get them a constructive sentence that will keep them on the right track,” Maddie says. A licensed attorney serves as the judge, and a jury of teens makes each ruling. Maddie volunteers for other causes, including weekly service at an assisted living facility as well as hair donations, food drives and toy drives. She has also received many academic honors. “She’s never made a B in her life,” says Gina Wilson, Maddie’s mom. Maddie was recognized by the Duke TIP program and has received writing awards.As a St. George eighth grader, Maddie was a fina…