Since Kyle Jackson was a baby, he’s been interested in cars.
Now, the fifth grader wants to be a police officer.
He’s so interested in police work, in fact, that for Halloween this year his parents arranged for Apple Valley police officers to make a surprise visit to his school’s Halloween parade, where Kyle was dressed as a police officer.
The costume was made cleverly complete with a miniature police car to fit over Kyle’s wheelchair.
‘Don’t ever say you can’t do something’
Kyle was born with spastic cerebral palsy—caused by abnormalities in the brain—and was diagnosed when he was 9 months old. The disease can result in very tight muscles and joints, knees touching or crossing and causing an abnormal walk, and muscle weakness and loss of movement.
He was also born prematurely and is developmentally delayed.
Through the ups and downs, his parents—Natasha and Nick Jackson—the school and the Apple Valley community have helped make as much of life for Kyle as possible.
The Halloween festivities this year were just one example.
“This year we just wanted to make it huge for him,” Natasha said.
Kyle’s one-on-one support assistant at school, Nancy Monio, was Kyle’s police officer partner. For the past three years, the pair has surprised the student body with coordinated costumes—Batman and Robin one year, Curious George and the Lady with the Yellow Hat the next.
Because Kyle is in fifth grade, his police officer costume will be the last he wears as a Cedar Park student. Next year, he’ll be a sixth grader.
In his remaining elementary school months, he’ll continue to leave a mark with the reputation he’s already built among the students and staff at his school.
“We always tell him ‘Don’t ever say you can’t do something,’ ” Natasha said.
The Most Popular Kid in School
Want to eat lunch with Kyle? Better put your name on the list.
Monio keeps a list at her desk of students who would like to spend the lunch hour with Kyle. Each day, the next student on the list gets to invite a few other students for a small group lunch. Even Kyle’s teacher had to put his name on the list.
“Some kids call him the most popular kid in school,” Monio said.
Every student knows him, Natasha said, “from the littlest kids to the oldest grades.”
The popularity of Cedar Park’s only student in a wheelchair—which he operates by moving his head—extends beyond school boundaries, too.
People in the community often approach Kyle in public to say hello, Natasha said.
“Parents come up that we don’t even know,” she said.
An Emotional Rollercoaster
When Kyle was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, his parents were in shock, thinking about all the “what ifs.”
“We were worried about his future and how people would treat him,” Natasha said. “It was like an emotional rollercoaster for a long time.”
Since then, Kyle has gotten Botox and phenol injections in his hamstrings and arms every six months. He’s also had his hamstrings shortened because of his small stature, and he’s had eye surgery, bilateral hip surgery and bilateral hernia surgery.
He’s had many fittings for braces and wheelchairs, and also has had therapy, Natasha said.
While technology for Kyle’s needs has advanced a lot, it’s a matter of being able to afford it all, Natasha said.
“Insurance doesn’t pay for a lot,” she said; she’s still in school, while Nick works full time. “Anything adapted is hundreds of dollars more.”
The Jacksons recently worked with the Minneapolis organization Mobility for Independence to raise money for a van that fits Kyle into the vehicle in his wheelchair, instead of having to dismantle and reassemble a manual wheelchair for each trip.
They’ve also found a bicycle that will work for Kyle, and are working to find the rest of the money to buy it.
Despite the challenges, the Jacksons try to give Kyle many of the experiences other children have.
He’s been camping, fishing, to the beach and to a special park in Red Wing developed for kids with disabilities, where he could maneuver through the setup on his own.
“He’s become a lot more independent,” Natasha said.
He also loves video games.
“He can play Playstation 3 better than a lot of grown adults can,” Nick said.
Kyle's future goals, beyond becoming a police officer, include meeting hockey players from the Minnesota Wild, his favorite sports team; the Jacksons said they’re still trying to get him to a game.
“We’ll get him there one of these days,” Nick said.
Going Above and Beyond
Through the past few years, Cedar Park has been "by far the best" school for Kyle, Natasha said.
He’s in mainstream classrooms there—his favorite subject is math, he said—and the family has never felt pressure to separate him or send him to a school for kids with disabilities.
In 2009, Kyle was out for three months for a surgery, and they were able to accommodate his needs, Natasha said.
“They go above and beyond what they need to do,” she said.
He spends each day accompanied by Monio. She tries to help him interact with other students as much as possible, even maneuvering his wheelchair for him while learning dance moves in gym class.
“Our chemistry is so close,” Monio said.
While the school community has been accepting of Kyle, Natasha said she wishes for more awareness among the general public of disabilities and the accommodations needed for them.
“It takes him a little bit to talk, but if you listen and give time, he’ll talk to you,” Natasha said of her son. “He’ll tell you why he’s in a wheelchair.”
One thing the Jacksons made sure to do was to be straightforward with Kyle’s brother, Blake, now 9, and sister, Chloe, now 7, about their older brother.
“We just tell them, ‘Everybody’s different,’ ” Natasha said. “I think that opens them up more to seeing people. They don’t react to people who have disabilities.”
The Kyle Smile
Though Kyle is in a wheelchair, the first thing everyone notices about him is his smile.
“He has the biggest, brightest, hugest smile,” she said. “Everybody calls it the Kyle smile. You can’t be mad when you’re around him. You can’t be sad.”
Though he can be emotional, the smile is on his face every morning when he goes to school.
“We make each other laugh all the time,” Monio said.
Monio isn’t sure whether she’ll get to continue on to middle school with Kyle. Regardless, the new school will give him a chance to get to know even more people.
Considering that Kyle always has a smile on his face, that shouldn’t be too hard.
"For as many struggles as he's gone through,” Nick said, “he's the happiest kid you'll ever meet.”