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Brashinger: Frankfort man succeeds in overcoming his disability

Frankfort resident Sherry Bianchwatches as her husbBrad Bradley  their sVictor Bradley play video games big screens Buffalo Wild Wings

Frankfort resident Sherry Bianchin, watches as her husband, Brad Bradley, and their son, Victor Bradley, play video games on the big screens at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Tinley Park. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 21, 2014 6:09AM



Victor Bradley, 22, is a success story, a child of “firsts,” his parents, Sheri Bianchin and Brad Bradley, of Frankfort, said.

Bradley was the first student with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism-related disorder, to make the National Honor Society at Lincoln-Way North High School and the first to enter a four-year college program. He is a sophomore at Valparaiso University in Indiana.

But those accomplishments came after years of challenging times, especially in school, Bradley’s parents said.

He was incorrectly diagnosed at 4 years old with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and then correctly diagnosed at 6 with Asperger’s. He got off to a rocky start in public school.

Bianchin and Bradley said they were among a group of parents who were educated at Summit Hill School District 161 about their child’s special needs, but there was no plan in place to help him make it through even one school day successfully.

The couple were frustrated by the lack of knowledge about their son’s disability and the resulting disciplinary action that did nothing to remedy the situation or to educate him.

They said that in the mid-1990s, many school districts, including those in the Lincoln-Way area, were not prepared to deal with a special education student who had a high level of intelligence but was not age-appropriate in social and emotional skills.

“On one level when he was 6 years old, he may have seemed like a 13-year-old,” Brad Bradley said, “but on a social/emotional level he was like a 3 or 4-year-old.”

For Victor Bradley, the lack of peer relationships continues to be a difficult part of Asperger’s. He said he “never really had a lot of friends,” and there were “definitely” bullies in his life.

“Sometimes I could get along with people, but then it never seemed to develop into anything outside of school, so that’s a little disappointing,” he said.

One way that Bradley found to “connect” with people was through Special Olympics, something he has been participating in since he was 8 years old.

Another athletic and social organization, one that Bianchin calls a “saving grace” for her son, was his participation with the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association over the last two years. She said the association seems to “get it” for kids who need not only adaptive physical activities but adaptive social activities as well.

Bradley’s best sport is basketball, which he has continued to participate in while at college through Special Olympics. The challenges that Bradley has met and the successes he has achieved are the result of years of hard work by him and many other people, his parents said.

Bianchin said autism is a population that inexplicably has grown sharply in the United States.

“We started the nonprofit because (Victor) was having so much trouble,” Bianchin said. “When he was diagnosed (in 1997), they were saying the statistics were one in 500 (children were autistic) and now it’s one in 66. … It has been like this explosion of incidents of autism.”

In 1998, Bianchin and her husband began taking courses to train them to help families with disabled children. They then founded Voice-Advocacy and became Region 3 of the Family Ties Network, a parent-training information center with the state of Illinois, and received a grant to train others.

In its pre-9/11 days, after which “grant funds dried up,” Brad Bradley said, Voice-Advocacy had about 125 members who assisted parents and disabled students by sitting in on individual education plans meetings at schools, attending truancy hearings and representing students at suspension hearings, among other needs. Bianchin, an attorney, was also able to assist in court situations.

The work is ongoing for other families and for their son, the couple said. “Part of our mission is helping families find resources since this can be such a lonely, confusing and anxiety-provoking road,” Bianchin said.

For more information, visit www.specialedadvocacy.org or call (815) 469-4929.



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