Benjamin Hughes

When Benjamin Hughes was one year and one month old, he was struck by a seizure that lasted over an hour. His mother had previously suspected that something was wrong, but the doctors told her she worried too much, that Benjamin was a fine healthy baby. The violent seizure was totally unexpected.

After four days in Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, NC, and 10 days in Children of the King's Daughters Hospital in Norfolk, VA, Benjamin was sent home. The chief neurologist told Ann Hughes that her son had cerebral palsy: a catchall phrase meaning that Benjamin's brain didn't work right. He told the family that Benjamin might one day be able to walk, but that he would never speak, never play ball, and would most probably die very early in life because his brain could not send the right signals to his body to let him exercise. He would be susceptible to pneumonia and other diseases. He leveled with her. Then at age 2 and a half, Benjamin was diagnosed with autism.

Ann, a retired teacher, went to work. She found an institute in Philadelphia with a program that held out some hope. She learned the basic techniques of "patterning" and "masking": doing things over and over until Ben's brain could connect with the muscles. Patterning would have to be done fifteen times a day for five minutes at a time, while masking would be taught every seven minutes for sixty seconds. These two techniques would have to be done in unison sixteen hours a day for three years. Ann learned that she would need 250 volunteers a week to act as trainers for Ben.

Ann spoke in her church, the COA nursing school, and at the Coast Guard Base. The newspaper wrote a small article. The Hughes phone started ringing: strangers volunteering to exercise Ben. The Hughes family turned their living room into a waiting/training room. Every week those 250 helpers came through the house. A waiting list was established to replace those who had to drop out.

After three years the number of people needed diminished, and the hard work began. Volunteers spent longer daily sessions with Ben, doing more difficult things. Benjamin learned to crawl by following someone through a long, wooden tunnel like box 600 times a day.  He learned to run by running up and down Sheep Harney Auditorium aisles. He grew strong.

He went to school, with the other kids: a shorter school day with tutoring at home. He graduated from high school, competed at the Special Olympics, and was ringmaster for the day at a circus.  He became known and accepted within the community.

Today Benjamin is happy, healthy and resides at Benjamin House. He enjoys his job, his family, his friends, videos, church, the circus, Mid-Atlantic Christian University, and meeting new people.  He smiles easily, but sometimes is very firm about what he wants to do. 

Benjamin was blessed with a determined mother and father, a loving family, and a caring church and community. He is their friend and their prize.

Watch and listen from a mother's perspective. Ann Hughes, Treasurer/Founder of Benjamin House, Inc., speaks on how her son was the catalyst for founding Benjamin House.