Photos courtesy Brian and Chrissy Schubert
by Paige Townley
Brian and Chrissy Schubert’s baby girl, Ady, was a normal, happy baby. She played peek-a-boo, spoke a few words, and enjoyed playing with big brothers Bailey and Camden.
But one day, everything changed. Suddenly their little girl stopped responding to her name. No longer would she play happily with other children or with her toys. “She became very despondent,” says Brian. “I can only describe it as if cobwebs got in her brain and took everything away.”
While Brian and Chrissy were hoping it was just a phase Ady was going through, all signs quickly pointed that it was much more. “She had been through a period of sickness, and we kept thinking she just needed to recover from that and everything would be okay,” Chrissy says. “But after a couple of months, nothing changed except that she kept regressing. I knew what it was right away.”
In 2011, around the age of two and a half, Ady was officially diagnosed with autism. “By the time of diagnosis I was just ready,” Chrissy says. “I had already mourned and knew that my dreams for her weren’t going to happen. Now I just wanted to help her and move forward with treatment and do whatever we could do to help her.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately one in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The disorder is actually much more common in boys than girls. While there is no cure for the disorder, research shows that early intervention can help improve an ASD child’s development.
Brian and Chrissy quickly enrolled Ady at Mitchell’s Place, a local school that provides comprehensive, research-based education and social and therapeutic services to children affected by autism and other development disabilities. While the family was happy to have Ady in a school that would help her developmentally, they soon found themselves under serious financial pressure. “School tuition was really expensive, and that doesn’t count other things like physician visits, her specific dietary requirements, medicines and travel required for doctors’ appointments,” Brian says. “We were going into a financial hole really quick.”
As the couple’s friends saw the financial pressures adding up on the family – and the financial responsibilities increasing as Ady was getting a little older – they decided to step in and help by hosting a fundraiser. The goal was to raise $7,000 to help with the Schuberts’ financial responsibilities for Ady for a month and a half. The event ended up raising $30,000, which was well over half of Ady’s yearly tuition.
“That night, driving home I was so overwhelmed with emotion,” Brian says. “To have that amount of money taken off of my shoulders was huge. It was then that I knew I wanted to start a nonprofit to help other families going through situations similar to ours. I didn’t know what it was going to look like at that moment, but I knew we were going to do something to help others like we were just helped.”
Soon after, the family’s pastor gave Brian and Chrissy the inspiration needed. “Our pastor said that God doesn’t waste pain,” Chrissy says. “He will take anything that happens in life and make something beautiful out of it. We just have to search for the good and not focus on the bad. That’s when it just clicked for us.”
That’s when Ady’s Army was officially born. The nonprofit organization helps families overcome some of the challenges of autism by helping with the financial burden. The organization is broken up into different sections that focus on different needs. Ady’s Barracks helps provide fences for families with autistic children. “Many autistic children will run off, not understanding any consequence or harm, and we understand what that’s like because Ady has that tendency,” Brian says. “We’ve had her get out the door at home before and run off, and that’s a scary scenario. So through Ady’s Barracks we provide fencing for families so that if the child manages to open a door and get out of the house, they can’t get out of the yard.”
Ady’s Wings was inspired by the many trips Brian and Chrissy must take Ady on for doctors’ appointments. Ady can’t fly commercially, so doctors’ appointments far away mean a long car ride, as well as expensive hotel stays and other transportation costs. Through a partnership with Angel Flight, Ady’s Wings provides free air travel for Ady’s Army families, as well as helping with accommodations and other necessities.
Ady’s Paws came from the research that shows companion dogs are great for autistic children, helping to alert others if the child has a seizure, helping find the child if he or she gets lost, or just providing comfort to the child. “Dogs serve a lot of purposes for autistic children,” Brian says. “But they are very expensive, costing up to $25,000. Through Ady’s Paws we aim to equip families with the canine help they need.”
Ady’s Racers is the newest addition to the organization and focuses on providing the parents and siblings of autistic children with a day filled with fun, including opportunities to ride in a professional race car. “I want the siblings of autistic children to have a day they can come out and enjoy themselves with their parents,” Brian says. “Siblings can get overlooked sometimes because of all of the needs an autistic child has. So we want an event they can enjoy for themselves. We also want it as something families can attend without being judged. It can be hard to go out as a family with an autistic child, so this is a great way families can without all eyes on them.”
While Brian and Chrissy continue to work with Ady through her own struggles, they continue to focus on Ady’s Army and other families facing similar circumstances. So far, they have helped eight families and are currently working to help numerous others. “Hearing how we’ve helped other families is what keeps me going,” Brian says. “We understand that feeling of desperation to help your child. We understand what each of these families is going through. While financially things have gotten better for us, we still deal with autism every day.”
Brian and Chrissy recently celebrated Ady’s seventh birthday. While they are still waiting for Ady to learn to verbally communicate more, in the meantime, they are appreciating what is being accomplished in her name. ”Ady may not have a voice in this world, but Ady’s Army is our way of giving her a beautiful voice,” Chrissy says. “Helping others has become her purpose.”
For more information about Ady’s Army, visit www.adysarmy.org.
Paige Townley is a Birmingham freelance writer.