What happens when the best of science is sandwiched by the best of love?

This is the question that Jacob’s Ladder school has been answering for 27 years as it has helped guide more than 4,000 children with neurobiological disorders toward hope and a future.

Amy O’Dell founded the school in Roswell, Georgia, as a way of making a better life for her youngest child. Jacob had been “born with such a sweet and beautiful spirit, but such a broken body and mind,” she says. Pervasive developmental delay was the diagnosis, a life sentence handed down with piles of documents at once condemning and disaggregated.

“I was told to adjust to the reality of the disability and to try to get pregnant again and hope for a ‘better child,’” she recalled. “It’s still really painful to remember those words.” Where medical experts declared little hope for any kind of change in her son, Amy saw a soul fighting to be seen.

“There was something in his eyes,” she says. “I couldn’t let it go.”

Amy had learned in the years before Jacob’s birth never to give up on a person deemed a lost cause by the accepted systems. She had worked in both adolescent and adult psychiatric care at Woodridge Hospital in Clayton, Georgia, using her degrees in activity therapy and counseling.

But home life was becoming a struggle, as her husband’s job was bringing in an annual income of just $3,000, and she, only able to work part time, wasn’t adding much more. They were borrowing more and more from Amy’s parents while credit card debt compounded. Meanwhile, Jacob’s needs were demanding more attention, and rural Appalachia didn’t have the infrastructure ...

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