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Changing The Play On Autism

How Brad Meshell found peace where torment once existed.

Everyone experiences life changing events. Some are sobering while others bring joy.

But when the event that brought torment to your life, later becomes an overwhelming source of peace, life can become particularly meaningful.

Brad Meshell started on such a journey on September 13, 2021. That was the day Jacob, his then 2-year-old son, was diagnosed with autism.

There were indicators along the way in the form of missed developmental milestones. Although his wife, Jaime, expressed concern, Brad did not.

“As a parent, I was in denial,” says Brad, a financial advisor at Stephen & Associates. “My boy was going to play football and go to college. But I promised Jaime that when Jacob turned two, we would begin the process of having him tested.”

Months of evaluations commenced in December of 2020. “Getting an official diagnosis takes time because you cannot access resources without it,” says Meshell.

When testing wound down in July, Meshell sensed that something wasn’t right.

“As we were leaving, I tried to get a word from the physician but she just told us that they would call us back when the paperwork was completed,” he says.

Then came that fateful September day.

“It was all very clinical,” he says. “She confirmed that Jacob's autistic and that was kind of it. They hand you a packet and off you go.”

The realization was stinging. For several months Meshell was overcome with depression and guilt. “I couldn’t get over it and didn’t know why,” he says. “Did I do something wrong? Did we feed him the wrong food? Silly things like that.

“As a dad, your kid skins his knee and you put on a Band-Aid. If he needs my heart or kidney, I’ll give it to him. But you can’t trade autism. That was the biggest struggle. It was out of character for something to hit me that hard.”

Weeks later, the reality of the situation dawned on him. Jacob was a happy, loving, mischievous little boy. Brad was the one who needed to heal.

“I knew that I needed to be a better father and I wanted to bring awareness to the needs of parents who are caregivers for their special children,” he says. “It became clear what my next steps would be.”

Inspired by causes like Tunnels to Towers and the St. Jude Walk/Run, Meshell set out to conquer the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway. On foot. Fifteen miles a day. Every day for 30 days.

It’s called Jacob’s Audible, a reference to football terminology that serves as a metaphor for changing the way parents approach autism.

For the second consecutive year, Brad began his trek in Natchez, Mississippi on April 1 and concluded on April 30 at the Trace’s Northern Terminus at Highway 100 in Bellevue, not far from his home off McCrory Lane.

“We can’t change autism, but we can change the way we approach it and feel about it,” he says. “This is how I can bring awareness to how important it is for parents of an autistic child to have healthy attitudes so that their child can be healthy.”

Prior to 2022, Meshell had never been on the Natchez Trace Parkway. But he posted about the journey daily on his social media platforms, Facebook.com/the444guy and Instagram.com/jacobsaudible.

Those posts were picked up by other people whom he eventually met along the way. One family had him over for Easter Sunday. Another took him to a Mississippi State University baseball game, and a TV station in Tupelo interviewed him during his stop there. Meshell also enjoyed the terrain, from the flat meandering trail in Mississippi to the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee.

“About halfway through, I realized something: it wasn’t about me anymore,” he says. “It was about all these other people and the people we’re going to help in Nashville, across the state and across the country, if I have my way.

“I could feel joy coming back into my life.”

Jacob’s Audible holds fundraisers throughout the year with a goal of $44,000.00 set for 2023. Information, including a donation portal, is available online at JacobsAudible.org.

“I knew that I needed to be a better father and I wanted to bring awareness to the needs of parents who are caregivers for their special children."

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