​ About Special Kids (ASK) Gives Desperate Families Hope and Help

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Two businesses are honored with ASK awards for their work to improve the lives of those with special needs.

Shelly Henley knows all about special kids. As the mother of a child with autism, she has fought for the needs of her son Jacob, now 22, since he was a toddler. But she didn’t stop there.

Inspired by Jacob’s interest in baking, she launched No Label at the Table, selling gluten- and dairy-free foods at farmers markets two years ago. Now, she has a store in Carmel and employs 15 people, all on the autism spectrum.

No Label at the Table was one of two businesses honored by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch at the About Special Kids (ASK) Founders Breakfast at the Woodstock Club on Nov. 1.

Like No Label at the Table, ASK was started at a kitchen table when parents, many with a connection to Riley Hospital for Children, came together to talk about how they could help their special-needs kids.

“Thank you for all you are doing to lift up all Hoosiers,” Crouch told a large group gathered to recognize award winners and raise money for the nonprofit, which has been supporting parents for 31 years. Approximately 100,000 Hoosiers have an intellectual or developmental disability, she said, and all deserve equal opportunities to live their best life.

“Some of these families are very desperate, they have no idea what to do, who to call,” ASK board member Holly Cunningham Piggott told the group. “ASK makes sure they understand they’re not alone.”

Cindy Robinson, director of education for ASK, said No Label at the Table reflects the “wonderful vision of a parent who wanted to give her son a chance, much like the dream of the founders of ASK, who all wanted to create an organization that would help parents help their kids with special needs have better lives.”

Henley didn’t know about ASK when she was searching for resources for her son 20 years ago, but she is honored to be recognized for her efforts to provide jobs and a measure of hope to many families through No Label at the Table, and especially to be honored by a nonprofit like ASK that evolved in a similar way.

“Right at the center of both organizations is just parents figuring things out for their kids, so this is especially sweet,” she said.

But it’s not about the award. “Working in the kitchen with my son and all of my employees is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Also honored with a table-shaped award at the founders breakfast was BraunAbility, which builds mobility devices for people around the world.

The story of BraunAbility begins with its founder, the late Ralph Braun. Diagnosed at Riley Hospital with spinal muscular atrophy and unable to walk by age 15, he worked with his father to develop the world’s first electric scooter, called the Tri-Wheeler. From there, he designed the first wheelchair lift and steering controls, allowing him to drive independently.

The company, based in tiny Winamac, Ind., manufactures wheelchair-accessible vans and lifts for use around the world.

-- By Associate Senior Journalist Maureen Gilmer
   mgilmer1@iuhealth.org Twitter: @MaureenCGilmer