With independence and accessibility for all
Brandy Close has always had a heart for children.
Interested in pediatric orthopedics from a young age, Close dreamed of becoming a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, but after job shadowing a surgeon, she realized that wasn’t for her.
After that realization, Close met with what could be considered a guardian angel, suggesting a different path, occupational therapy.
“I went to shadow a surgeon in high school my sophomore year and decided right then that it wasn’t for me,” Close said. “But I remember that same day, I have no idea who it was, but this man said that I should look into OT, saying that if I wanted to help kids with bone injuries and issues, that it might be a good alternative.”
Latching onto the suggestion, Close re-imagined her five-year plan post high school and began her journey toward becoming a pediatric occupational therapist.
“One of my big things was that I wanted to help kids,” Close said. “My mom taught and took care of kids for our whole life, and I think that had a little bit of an impact, but I knew I didn’t want to become a teacher.”
Completing field work at a special needs school in Louisville, Close fell in love with working with children on the autism spectrum and with severe special needs.
After graduation, Close returned to Taylor County to work as an occupational therapist within the schools.
Implementing techniques to help children participate in everyday activities, skills and interactions with their environments, Close worked within the school system for several years, alongside speech-language pathologist, Jennifer Houk.
“Being a school therapist was amazing because of the convenience of the school calendar, especially being a mom, but we knew that we couldn’t impact kids in the way that we wanted to and the way they needed,” Close said. “We were able to help them in schools, but as far as home and community, we couldn’t do much.”
Working closely with children and parents, the duo realized many parents were in the dark in terms of further interventions outside of school.
Realizing the dire need for a therapeutic facility, Close and Houk took a leap of faith and opened The Kid SpOt Center in 2010.
“Once things got started and we began hiring additional therapists, so that we could help more kids,” Close added. “And it grew from there.”
With eight programs including speech, physical, occupational and music therapies, community living support, targeted case management, applied behavior analysis and mental health, The Kid SpOt Center averages around 6,800 visits monthly from clients ages 2 to 21.
A mother of five children, Close is well-versed in inclusive living.
“Two of my children came from me; Bryten, who is 16, Hudsen 15, and Lincoln, was diagnosed with trisomy 13 in utero and passed away shortly after he was born,” Close said. “After that, we still wanted to expand our family, so we started looking into adoption, and that’s how we got Ali, short for Alexandra, 7. We thought we were done, but around 2015, Jaquon, our other son began playing football for Andy, my husband, and Jay would come home with Bryten after school a lot. In 2017, he needed a place to live, and here we are six years later, and we have permanent guardianship of him. He’s our fourth and final, and I call him our caboose, our surprise caboose, because we had no idea he was coming.”
Heavily involved in sports, each of Close’s boys and their teams help out at The Kid SpOt Center during SpOt Ball, a baseball league designed for children with disabilities ages 3 and up.
“As parents, Jen and I try to make plans as moms first, considering how we would want someone to help us treat our kids, so seeing the progress that all of our kiddos make, it’s amazing to think that we had a little tiny piece of making that happen,” Close said. “There are still those stereotypes that kids with disabilities can’t do regular things, but that’s not true at all. Sometimes they need a little adaptation or accommodation, but they can certainly participate in life just like everyone else.”
Preparing children for success in life, Close and Houk provide critical services not widely available, like community living supports, where children ages 8-18 learn in an interactive group-based setting about social skills, focusing on interpersonal skills and self awareness.
Prioritizing functionality and independence, The Kid SpOt Center serves clients until age 21.
“We have kids that have been with us since the beginning when they were two and three that are now 16 and 17, so now we are turning our focus to what we are going to do to help kids after they turn 20,” Close said.
Branching out, Close and Houk have started 4-Leaf-Friends, a nonprofit dedicated to integrating clients, both young and old, into the community.
“We chose 4-Leaf-Friends because of the four-leaf clover’s meaning: they are hard to find and lucky to have,” Close explained. “4LF is completely separate from The Kid SpOt because it is a nonprofit; the only relation is that Jen and I are the founders of both.”
Incorporating inclusive furniture, equipment and areas within communities, 4LF has already completed a project on The Kid SpOt Center’s main campus in Campbellsville, an accessible playground where all children can play together.
For more information about The Kid SpOt Center, go to www.thekidspotcenter.com and follow @thekidspot on Facebook.