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Watching a young man blossom


22-year-old Aaron Snyder has dreams just like anyone his age. The difference is he took his dream to become a music producer and ran with it – all while struggling with cerebral palsy

By Karen Cotton

Twenty-two-year old Aaron Snyder of Cheyenne is a thin, happy-go-lucky college student finishing his last year at Orlando Florida’s Audio Recording Technology Institute.
With the experience he’s gaining in recording, mixing music and film production, Aaron says he has dreams of becoming a producer in the music industry.
In other words, big dreams.
You’d never realize the years of struggle and surgery he’s persevered through in order to dream and likely achieve his goals.
“In September or October of 2005, I was getting discontent and restless,” Aaron says as he stutters lightly. “I knew I didn’t belong in Cheyenne anymore and that there was something else out there for me.
“I wanted to be somewhere else.”
That November, he began looking online for audio recording schools.
“I found this one in Orlando and knew it was where I wanted to be,” he said. “I wasn’t scared, or nervous. I knew that’s where I needed to be, but it was hard on my family and friends.”
Aaron’s bubbly personality, ability to make friends and ‘Just Do It’ attitude has helped him overcome the odds while he has struggled with moderate cerebral palsy.

Leaving the nest
Aaron’s departure came as a bit of a surprise for his parents.
“We kind of always thought he would live at home and we’d have to take care of him,” says Ken, his father.
Instead, Ken and his wife are watching a young man blossom.
“We’re proud of him that he’s out there in school and hopefully he can make it on his own,” Ken says. “He’ll get a job somewhere and be able to take care of himself.”
His mother, Jan, says when Aaron told his parents that he wanted to go to school in Florida it was hard for her to imagine.
“He was so determined and my husband said that I should let him go,” she says. “It was what we had always hoped for.
“We call and support him and make sure everything is OK and that his needs are being met,” Jan says.
The first time she took Aaron out to Florida was the worst.
“We flew and I rented a car,” Jan says. “As I’m driving I was trying to think of him doing that.”
She said she felt overwhelmed and emotional and asked him, “‘Aaron isn’t this overwhelming to you at all?’”
He said to his mom, “No, it’s not. I know I can do it.”
“Once he packed up, as a family, we knew that we had to let him try,” Jan says.

Loving support in numbers
Even while in Florida, Aaron has his own morale and support team in Cheyenne.
Among them are an older brother, Caleb, 25, and a younger one, Michah, 12.
“His littlest brother has problems with him because he gets teased by him a lot,” Ken says. “They get along, but he’s always teasing him about Sponge Bob Square Pants and stuff. They have their brotherly squabbles like any other brothers.”
Jan adds, “Caleb admires Aaron for taking the chance that he’s taking going so far from home, and not having family or friends there.”
Aaron hasn’t had any struggles at school.
“He is confident and he has been able to be a spokesman for himself,” Jan says. “If he needs something he’s able to find resources to get help from his neighbors, church or school.”
Neill O’Donnell, 21, has known Aaron since the fourth grade and the two are best friends.
When O’Donnell switched schools in the fourth grade, he met Aaron and realized that the two lived within two blocks of each other.
With time, O’Donnell discovered that Snyder was a good friend and a great person, both honest and willing to help people.
“All throughout school we were there for each other, during family issues and crisis,” he says.
Aaron makes friends easily because he doesn’t judge people and gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, O’ Donnell says.
O’Donnell looks up to his friend.
“If he says he’s going to do something, it’s going to happen no matter what,” he says.
Passion for music runs deep
“When he was real little I’d set him up on a stool and he listened to records,” Jan says. “He liked to watch the records go around.”
It soon became evident that Aaron had an ear for music.
“I don’t know if it was because of his lack of mobility, but it was something he could do,” she says. “He loves to write lyrics to music. That’s the way he could express his feelings and thoughts.”
Ken echoes Jan’s thoughts, “I’m always amazed at how well he can write and put his thoughts into words. He has trouble speaking and being articulate.”
Aaron has played the bass guitar since he was in the eighth grade when a friend introduced him to the instrument.
His music of choice is punk rock music: Plus 44, Lawrence Arms and Rage Against the Machine.
“There’s so many great things about music, whatever mood you’re in, depending on that type of song,” Aaron says. “You just listen to it and it makes you happy. It makes you feel good about life.”
He wasn’t in band in school or choir, but he did play in a garage band called The Unwanted.
From those beginnings, Aaron discovered his passion for producing music.
“The career fits him perfectly,” O’Donnell says. “He has always been interested in music. He worked for radio station here.”
O’Donnell participated in Aaron’s love for music.
“When he was in a band for a while, I helped him out at shows,” he said. “I took him to other concerts in Denver when he was in his wheelchair.”
In October of 2003, Access 2 ABILITY (now known as MentorABILITY), gave Aaron the opportunity of a lifetime.
“One of my former teachers told me to call the director of (Access 2 ABILITY) at the time, Charlie Barrett,” he said. “I went to Clear Channel and job shadowed.”Aaron worked there for two and a half years.
He also did the board operation for the Colorado Rockies games.
“I got bored with that and wanted something more challenging, so I got the opportunity to run the board for the live remotes,” he said.
In August of 2005, he was named the executive producer for a radio program, “Crossroads,” for the Governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Michelle Brutsman, the director of Arc for Laramie County, met Aaron when she was the coordinator for Access 2 ABILITY.
“I know so many people without disabilities that don’t try half as hard as he does,” Brutsman says. “I keep telling him, ‘You’re going to have this amazing job – Do you remember me now that you’re famous?’ The people that he’ll meet and the things he’ll do – wow he’s amazing.”
Brutsman met with Craig Cochran, the general manager of Clear Channel of Cheyenne and discussed how Aaron could do more jobs.
Clear Channel has partnered with Access 2 ABILITY since 2003.
“It was great working with Aaron because he had a great terrific, positive attitude and he enjoyed challenges,” Cochran said.
Cochran says he was surprised the most by Aaron’s sense of humor. 
“Aaron will be able to do well at whatever he decides to do well in,” Cochran says. “Because he has done well in everything we experienced with him.”
Cochran adds that Aaron was a strong influence on other employees because of his courage and positive attitude.
“He accepts the challenges of his life and deals with them with such a positive attitude that good things happen to him,” Cochran says.
Brutsman says Aaron’s smile is a constant in life.
“He’s smiling the whole entire time, and I’ve never seen him when he’s not happy and smiling,” Brutsman said.Usually the people that Brutsman helps don’t know what they need help with or what they want to do. But that’s not Aaron.
“Aaron wanted more hours, he wanted to work hard, he wanted to get off Social Security, he was willing to say, ‘This is what can I do,’” she says. “I admire that in him. He has been a good hard worker, a go getter. He has been phenomenal.”

A youth filled with surgeries
Aaron has gone through 10 operations in his lifetime.
“A lot of things happened within the first five years of my life,” Aaron says. “I don’t remember it.”
For those who do remember it, the times were stressful.
“It was tough. Aaron had seven operations the first year that he was alive,” Ken says. “You just always are wondering how things are going to turn out, you know.”
Aaron was born with multiple birth defects.
He has had three surgeries on his eye, three shunt surgeries, abdominal surgery because his abdomen was full of scar tissue and surgery on both legs between the time he was three months old and 17 years old.
Aaron was born with a rare birth defect in his right eye, it was underdeveloped and doctors removed a mass of blood vessels. He now is blind in that eye.
He has hydrocephalus, and he’s had three shunts to treat the problem.
“He has moderate cerebral palsy – it affects his balance and muscle tone,” Jan said. “It also affects his speech. He has some processing difficulties, difficulty processing a lot of information.”
His parents aren’t sure why Aaron has cerebral palsy. 
Aaron was born Cesarean section, as the doctors were delivering him his lungs filled with amniotic fluid, breathing was difficult, and he was blue.
 “A lot of times cerebral palsy is due to a lack of oxygen,” Jan said. “I’m not sure, though – it’s just who he is.”
There are three levels of severity with cerebral palsy ranging from mild to severe.
“He has really used it for the positive, and that’s exactly what he says, ‘This is who I am. This is a part of me,’” Jan says.
But Aaron doesn’t stop there.
“It has given him a real desire to be an advocate for himself and other people with disabilities,” Jan says. “He understands it. He wouldn’t change it.”
Two surgeries that were difficult for Aaron were the ones where he can remember the pain.
The first was his abdominal surgery, which took place when he was in the eighth grade.
The second took place in August of 2002 when he was 17.
He had surgery on his legs to make his feet straighter. He was in a wheelchair for eight months after that.
It was an emotional set back for him, Jan said.
“We were hoping to keep him out of a wheelchair,” Jan says.
At one point, his doctors thought he would always be wheelchair bound.
But Aaron took oral medication and had Botox injections in his legs, so he was able to gain mobility.
“I went through physical therapy for four or five months,” Aaron says.
When he got his leg and shoe braces, he walked on stairs and treadmills to increase his mobility.
Aaron was able to walk across the stage for his senior year graduation in May of 2003.
Now, he doesn’t wear his braces.
“I can walk everywhere,” he says.

You’d never know
O’Donnell says Aaron has been determined through it all.
“They said he’d never walk after a few surgeries that he had, and he did,” O’Donnell says.
It was just another example of how Aaron refused to dwell on or be stopped by his circumstances.
When O’Donnell first met Aaron, he noticed Aaron’s cerebral palsy.
“When we got to be closer friends, I never thought of it,” he says.
O’Donnell says he knows Aaron will do wonderful things in life.
“No matter what path in life he takes, he’ll have a great impact on the people around him because he is an inspiration of what you can do if you are determined and put your mind to it,” he says.
For Aaron, it’s a simple choice.
“It’s how I choose to be,” he says. “Life is better that way, rather than sitting around complaining, ‘Why me? Why this?’”
In Orlando, Aaron goes to concerts, plays music and messes with his computer. Of course, he takes some down time on the sunny Florida beaches. And he likes to hang out with his friends.
You’d never guess the trials the young man has gone through to reach this point.
And that’s just the way Aaron would prefer it.

If you would like to contact Aaron personally please feel free to email him @  Aaron Snyder

 The Cerebral Palsy Network©1997/2014. All graphics are the exclusive property of CPN, unless otherwise indicated. Contact Cerebral Palsy Network   for further information. Last updated 05/05/14