Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exceptional Family TV

Have you heard about Exceptional Family TV? Well, it’s a web-based video series all about families of children with special needs. I had the opportunity to interview Nathan, the creator, about this incredible project.

1. A little background for those you don’t know—what first got you interested in people with special needs?

Renee and I had our firstborn son Zachary in March 2007. While he was born premature (5 weeks) and under weight (3 lbs. 7 oz) and spent 30 days in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, doctors told us he would be fine and normal. We became concerned when we noticed him fisting his hands, being very stiff in legs and arms, severely cross-eyed, and scissoring his legs a lot, but again our pediatrician said he was normal and would grow out of it. At 7-months-old Zachary started having seizures, at which point we got an MRI, which told us he had severe brain damage. We received a diagnosis of Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy, and West Syndrome for the seizures. This thrust us into our special needs journey and we've been moving forward ever since, sharing our story, experiences and having a heart to help others.

2. What are you trying to accomplish with Exceptional Family TV?

Exceptional Family TV is meant as the online home destination for parents raising children with special needs, with the main focus being a weekly web series. The website is a place for parents globally to connect with one another, share in their journeys/advice/joys/heartaches/triumphs/treatments and more. Each week, the website will "air" a new video episode featuring a topic of interest to parents raising children with special needs.

3. What kinds of stories will you be covering?

These topics could be a family's unique story, highlight a volunteer in the community, talk about an organization serving special needs, look at a therapy/treatment, or a group parent discussion, skype interviews with exceptional families in other countries, and much much more. The show is aimed at and intended to serve the exceptional families around the world. A picture is worth a thousand words, but video is priceless.

4. The website is going to have some other features besides the television program—can you describe them?

Besides the weekly web series, has discussion forums where parents (or anyone) can connect with each other, share their stories, talk about their journeys, trade advice, or just talk to talk. We also have book clubs set up directly with several authors of books on special needs topics, so you can order the book and talk directly with the authors about each chapter. There's blogs from a variety of parents with children of all different kinds of diagnoses. We also have some "behind-the-scenes" videos, a "Kiddo Kam" section for parents to submit their home videos of their kids, a Resource Link section and a "News" section where we will post links to any exceptional family story.

The website is also integrated with Facebook through the Facebook Connect program, so you can sign up on through your Facebook account and easily share materials of interest with your friends.

5. Do you have a guiding principle or idea as you create the series?

There are several guiding principles on this project. First, the project is designed to help parents have community and get connected and give them a "reality show" that is all their own, because too often we initially find ourselves alone in this journey, and there is power and positive hope when we go through it together. Another guiding principle is to help make the next exceptional family's journey less difficult in any way possible - if this project can show a story on video that gives hope and inspiration to another or gives a parent information and ideas, then it's been successful. Another principle with the episodes is to show the world at large we are normal families put in extraordinary circumstances and our children are children - they are not a disability. My overall hope is there would be less fear and less ignorance in society toward exceptional families, children, and adults with special needs and more understanding, love, acceptance.

I don’t know about you guys, but just reading Nathan’s guiding principles makes me excited about the project. I’ve checked out the first episode and he did a fantastic job. Even my husband was interested, which is a miracle because he’s usually too busy gardening to even look a screen. Go check it out!