As a young adult, Natalie Shigley, of Minford, did not know the challenges that life would bring her way. Still, when all odds were against her or her family, they continued to prevail through hard times and overcome struggles.
Shigley started college as Shawnee Community College, long before the campus housed a university. She had aspirations of becoming an educator.
“I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf and hearing impaired,” she remembered.
Without the local educational opportunities, Shigley settled for majoring in early education. However, she got pregnant with her oldest daughter, Shavaughn who is now 30.
Shigley left school to raise her daughter. She turned to public assistance to help her meet financial difficulties. Soon, however, Shigley started volunteering at the head start, where she had enrolled her daughter. That turned into a part-time job. She has now been with community action for 24 years, where she has worked as a teacher’s aide and bus driver.
Today, Natalie is the mother of five children, three of which are special needs. After Shavaughn, Natalie had her second son Kyle. Kyle grew up a normal kid, who was athletic and enjoyed football.
Natalie’s second daughter Kimmie is her husband’s (Chuck) daughter from a previous marriage; however, Natalie has raised Kimmie since she was six. Throughout school, Kimmie had an individualized education plan (IEP) to help her cope with her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In addition to being diagnosed with ADHD, Kimmie also has battled various mood and behavioral disorders. When Natalie took Kimmie into her life, she already had an interest in helping those with disabilities. However, Natalie had no way of knowing the struggles she would have with her two youngest children.
In 1997, Natalie and Chuck has CJ. The child was born premature and with water on the brain. As an infant, he was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Columbus. During the first seven months of his life, CJ was on an apnea monitor. Natalie remembers being scared for her family and her child. Doctors could not give a life expectancy for CJ and basically told the family to go home and prepare for him to die. He was never expected to be able to walk and was being prepared for surgery to remove the water from his brain.
CJ is now 20-years-old, 6’2”, and weighs 441 pounds. Rather than prepare for his death, the Natalie and her family enrolled CJ in therapies and turned to REACH/Help Me Grow for support. Throughout his life, CJ has been diagnosed with autism, seizures and sleep and behavior disorders. Though technically an adult, CJ is still not potty trained. He also required multiple medications throughout the day. Many of these medications cause weight gain. He is also unable to tell when he is full because of sensor damage to his brain. As part of his autism and behavior disorders, CJ has violent outbursts when he may become violent to himself or a family members. In order to reduce such outbursts, CJ must be kept on a strict schedule.
Though Natalie still works part-time, her husband is no longer employed. CJ is in school. He started in the handicapped program at Minford but was later dual enrolled in the program at Minford and at the Vern Riffe school for those with developmental disabilities. He has been solely attending the Vern Riffe school since being a freshman in high school. He is expected to graduate in 2020.
“He is our miracle,” Natalie stated.
After CJ, Natalie and Chuck had their daughter Cheyenne. After she was born, Natalie started to see some behaviors in Cheyenne that CJ displayed.
“We were dealing with CJ and started seeing things with Cheyenne,” Natalie stated.
Cheyenne would not make eye contact or respond when her name was spoken. She was soon diagnosed with an auditory processing delay. Though CJ was severely autistic, Cheyenne was diagnosed as having mild to moderate autism.
“It was all so overwhelming,” Natalie said looking back.
However, life has improved, and Natalie has seen her children do things she never expected.
When Cheyenne started school, Natalie decided to work with educators to see if Cheyenne could be successful without an IEP. She is now a senior at Minford and has never had an IEP. Additionally, Cheyenne has been in band since fifth grade, has been honor student throughout her educational career, takes college classes through the College Credit Plus program and is a member of the National Honor Society.
Still, she is active with other children with disabilities. Natalie explained that she and her family first got involved with the Autism Project of Southern Ohio when it was a small support group in the 1990’s. Since that time, she has seen Kyle running across a baseball field with CJ, who plays on the Challenger League. Seeing her two sons being able to play together has always been a dream, and through Challenger League, it has come true.
Cheyenne is also preparing for college, a life event that scares her mom a bit. Natalie explained that she is afraid for Cheyenne to go away to school but is supportive of her goals. As a family, face setbacks and difficulties. Chuck, for example, is unable to attend Cheyenne’s band functions because he is needed at home to care for CJ. This family is one that has sacrificed for each other and cried together. And, through struggle, they have found security – security in knowing as a family they will stick it out through whatever life brings their way.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.