When Charles Schoen’s son Charlie was born in Atlanta in 1997, he was as excited as any new parent welcoming a firstborn. Reading the book “What to Expect the First Year” with his wife to understand his son’s first days, weeks and months, it was when Charlie was just three months old that doctors worried about Charlie not pushing off his mat during tummy time. Ordering an MRI, doctors revealed a significant brain injury and told the Schoens they predicted developmental delays and they were unsure how Charlie would progress.
“When you are reading ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ and all those books, they certainly don’t cover this,” says Charles about the day he learned his son would require special needs. “But we went from focusing on what Charlie wasn’t doing to celebrating what Charlie could do and celebrating smaller milestones. We decided to look at all of the positives Charlie brought to our lives, even though there are limitations.”
The Schoens enrolled Charlie in the first Inclusion Program at the formerly known Shirley Blumenthal Park in Marietta until he was three, and then preschool at the Adaptive Learning Center in Kennesaw. Charles met an array of dedicated teachers and staff that showed more than love to his son but became like family. “As I said to one of Charlie’s teachers, ‘Special needs is special because it introduces us to special people,’” Charles says.
By the time Charlie began elementary school, Charles had started to notice the children’s books written about special needs all seemed to start with “What’s Wrong With,” and the idea of writing books celebrating Charlie’s achievements and the people who supported him bloomed.
“Charlie Goes to School” became the first of 10 books Charles wrote about Charlie between elementary and middle school. Others fol lowed in the “Adventures with Charlie” series, such as “Charlie Goes to Tommy’s Barber Shop,” “Charlie Plays Baseball,” and “Charlie Runs a Half Marathon,” which he did together with his dad. In every story are the real people in Charlie’s life, from young to old friends.
It took Charles 10 years before he found a way to publish the books, working with Amy and Doreyl Ammons, a sister publishing team in Highlands, North Carolina. Publishers of family-oriented books through Ammons Communications, Doreyl provides the beautiful illustrations that capture Charlie and his friends.
“I didn’t publish the books to sell them for a profit. I created them as a way to get Charlie’s story out and for all the people who became friends these last 26 years,” he says.
Charlie, now 26, loves the books and keeps them in his bed to read as soon as he wakes up every morning. His favorite is ‘Charlie Goes to Waffle House,’ which shares Charlie’s friendship with the staff of their local Waffle House, now family after 15 years of watching Charlie grow up. (Waffle House loves the book so much it can be found at the corporate office and Schoen family friend, Joe Rogers, appears in a cameo.)
“Every morning he wakes up and reads ‘Charlie Goes to Waffle House’ and points at Theo, the cook, and asks to go,” says Charles. “I have to tell him, ‘No, we aren’t going to Waffle House today,’ but the book captures his special friendships with the people around him.”
Charles feels gifted by all those who have entered his life because of Charlie, a gift only Charlie could give him. Because of those people, Charles has served as executive director of the Adaptive Learning Center for more than a decade.
“I was looking to do something different and Susan Tauber, the director at the time, asked me to take this on. I didn’t want to. I asked to work on fundraisers instead, but she told me the Center needed someone who understands firsthand who we are and what we do. I’ve been here 11 years, the longest job I’ve ever had. All because of Charlie.”
Sometimes, a moment that seems dark and scary can grow into an array of blessings, and that is definitely worth celebrating.
Adventures With Charlie is available as a series of 10 books for $35 or $10 per book at adventureswcharlie.com.
To learn more about the Adaptive Learning Center, visit alckids.org.