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Exceptional family TV has arrived! We were tired of being alone.

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It was as simple as that. Being alone in our situation was more than awful; it was painful. When you have a child with special needs, chances are you're the only one in your immediate circle of family and friends. It can be downright frightening to be this isolated, given the profound severity of the situation.

With neither friends nor family to connect with in Colorado, my wife Renee and I reached out to the online community through a family blog and YouTube channel. This simple act completely altered our family perspective, opening up a great community of encouragement and understanding, guiding us into an adventure unlike anything we've done before.

Our son, Zachary, had a very complicated and difficult birth in March 2007 and spent a month in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. Everything seemed normal, so the doctors told us, although we had concerns. When Zachary was seven months old he began experiencing seizures. This led to a diagnosis of West Syndrome (infantile epilepsy), and a follow up MRI revealed extensive brain damage giving us the big diagnosis forever changing our family's life--spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy.

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This devastating blow completely knocked the wind out of me, shattering hopes, dreams, expectations. For a father, my world was crashing around me, and neither hope nor light existed at the end of this tunnel. Soon after the diagnosis, I spiraled into depression not knowing how to handle the situation, being overwhelmed by the extreme weight of it all. How was a father supposed to deal with this news? My precious firstborn son isn't going to be like I imagined.

Our life's normality train took a complete derailment.

Renee sailed through this time, having a strong mother's intuition to move forward and take action. She carried herself with such a positive attitude; I could only admire and cling to her positivity like a man swept out to a wild, churning sea clings onto a life preserver. Eventually, the rope attached to Renee's buoyancy pulled me out of the darkness of depression and into a maturing marriage relationship, growing stronger every day by love.

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Together, we set off on a journey of learning, discovery, newfound appreciations, and respect for the precious little things in life we used to take for granted. We flew head first into the complicated arena of therapies to do everything we could to ensure Zachary would have the best life possible.

We sought out social connection online through our blog and YouTube. Within a year, we were literally connecting with people around the world. A strong desire grew inside me to do more for and with the special needs community that we so quickly found welcoming us with encouraging and supporting arms.

One day in early 2009, a zealous grandmother of a child with special needs sends an email to me as she was drawn to our family story. Susan Stephens, a woman from Memphis, TN, reached out to me through my blog, YouTube channel, and Facebook page to discuss her grandson, Garrett, who also has cerebral palsy and to talk about an independent online media project she was developing. Since I am a television producer by trade, I guided Susan through the process of setting up her online show. It soon became very evident she was not able to continue a one-woman-band production.

Through several discussions, Susan and I began brainstorming together on what became Exceptional Family TV (http://www.exceptionalfamilytv. com).

The idea was to create an online home destination for encouragement, support, and networking of families raising children with special needs. The site's main focus is to broadcast a weekly web series, which covers exceptional families' stories along with the multitude of special needs topics such as therapies and organizations serving the community. Renee, Zachary, and I visit different families and other interesting stories, meeting with them directly to share their experiences and unique journey on camera.

Other very important features to the site include discussion forums (http://www.exceptionalfamilytv. com/discussion), blogs (http://www. exceptionalfamilytv.com/blogs/producers/nathan), book clubs, and a social networking platform. You can also join our Fan Page on Facebook (http://bit.ly/EFTV_Welcome_FB).

In order to make the project a reality, Susan and I enlisted the partnerships of Exceptional Parent magazine, Warm Springs Productions, and BridgeWorks Creative. I will write a monthly column for Exceptional Parent about a particular exceptional family story, which will link to a video episode on Exceptional Family TV. Warm Springs Productions, a television production company out of Missoula, MT, is producing and editing the weekly web series. Bridgeworks Creative, a web design and marketing firm out of Bozeman, MT, created and maintains the website platform.

The website, www.ExceptionalFamilyTV.com, launched in late January 2010 and our goal is to provide a weekly web series just for you, a social networking platform just for you and forum discussions [http://bit.ly/EFTV_Discussion_Board] just for you.

And so this amazing new adventure begins for our family in this unique platform. We've found a community to plug into and discovered we are definitely not alone.

We just wrapped up our first production block in Denver back in mid-February, some behind-the-scenes videos [http://bit.ly/ Nathan_BTS] are up on the site now, and we are editing the episode footage this month. There's a story of a mother who gave her nine-year-old functionally non-verbal son with autism a video camera and within one year he began narrating his own videos; another family whose three-year-old daughter, born with only 20% of her optical nerve, received adult stem cell treatment from China; and a family of five whose youngest daughter has gone five years without a diagnosis. Episodes will premiere in May.

All of us at Exceptional Family TV look forward to connecting with you, listening to your stories and sharing in each other's experiences, because we are not alone in this journey!

Nathan is father to Zachary, who has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, husband to wife Renee, and the host of Exceptional Family TV.
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Author:Charlan, Nathan
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Words:1016
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