When April Dean was only 6 months old, her mother Amy noticed she wasn’t sitting upright.
Two months later, doctors told Amy and her husband, Rick, that April had cerebral palsy, with little chance of ever walking.
It was also discovered that she had a developmental disability that would affect her speech and learning.
“He told us she would never drive a car or go to college,” said Amy, recalling the doctor’s diagnosis. “That was the real devastating news.”
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder which affects the movement, muscle tone and posture of over 500,000 people in the U.S.
Muscles are either too floppy or stiff, resulting in delayed motor skills, and can be accompanied by occasional seizures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the most common motor disability among children, and there is no known cure.
Amy and Rick would need to take cautious measures to ensure their daughter’s needs would be met.
Growing and adjusting
While receiving government assistance to accommodate her needs, April attended unique classes in school to learn and socialize with other children.
By fourth grade, she was being home-schooled, and received both speech and occupational therapy.
In these formative years, she would thrive in playing sports, such as basketball and baseball, as well as contending in a chess club — accomplishments exceeding the grim outlook doctors had initially predicted.
“It’s not about what the child can’t do,” said Amy, who tried to raise her daughter with a sense of independence. “More importantly is what are they able to do.”
April attended Gaither High School where she continued to receive therapy.
While there, she joined ‘Best Buddies,’ a nonprofit organization, which paired her with other students to find common interests and develop friendships.
The organization has a chant, which April still recites to this day — followed with hand claps and a cheer at the end.
A new transition
As April was finishing her senior year of high school, she became involved in the Community-Based Training (CBT) program. This organization helped her find employment and to build good work ethic.
For the next three years, April worked at a nursing home dining room, a Publix bakery and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.
However, the CBT program had a cutoff point and was only able to support April until she turned 22.
Amy knew that employment was a valuable asset to her daughter and wanted her to continue working in some capacity.
By chance, Amy frequented the local Taco Bell in her Lutz neighborhood that had an employee with a disability.
Without Amy making a request, the manager reached out and offered a position for April.
It came as a surprise to Amy who admitted she never considered the idea.
“When I heard that they were willing to try to accommodate, that made me feel good about that place [Taco Bell],” she said.
Now at 25, April is about to celebrate her third year at Taco Bell.
“The second I started Taco Bell, I loved it,” she said. “It makes me happy.”
She works two days a week wiping tables and trays, as well as keeping the drink area in top-notch shape.
Her hard work has earned her an Employee of the Month award, which she proudly displays at home.
“You could just see the pride in being able to work,” Amy said, referring to the job’s impact on her daughter. “It was really evident.”
April is an approachable employee, socializing with the customers and greeting her co-workers with hugs.
While Amy has seen the social growth that the job has given April, she believes it can be beneficial for others, as well.
Amy said it’s important for those without special needs to engage with those who do, as it builds patience and understanding.
Amy and Rick have to work their respective jobs and cannot always be home. However, Taco Bell management has been generous in working April’s schedule around theirs.
When not at work, April involves herself in various activities.
“I like to rock out in my room with the music loud,” she said. “I have lots of music CDs.”
Aside from playing video games and sports, she spends time with her best friend, Anne Marie, and older brother, Eric.
She also serves as an usher at her church, where she has formed many relationships with members.
“Her giftedness is being a butterfly,” said Amy of her daughter’s effect on others. “She goes from flower to flower, pollinating love and joy.”
When April was younger, Amy joined a support group where she could express her thoughts among those who resonated with her situation. She encourages other parents with disabled children to do the same and to not give up hope.
“Just know that there’s value in their life,” Amy said. “They still have gifts to offer.”
Published September 26, 2018