In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of the four champions we will be honoring at our Leading by Example gala on March 27. We will be recognizing several special people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are making a difference: teaching the next generation of doctors; advocating at the State House for much-needed services and funding; and educating the community. You can follow along with these stories right here.
Braeden Yee has a lot in common with most 12-year-old boys. He loves to take part in athletic activities, including basketball, soccer, baseball, and swimming. He loves to roller skate down his street. In the summer, he attends an active day camp full of fun outdoor activities like ziplining. He loves cars, and building things with his Thomas the Tank Engine train track sets.
But most 12-year-old kids can’t boast that they’re a piano prodigy. Nor can they claim that they are currently teaching future doctors and nurses across the state how to provide higher quality care to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism.
Braeden has autism and global developmental delays. Over the years, he has had many other complex medical issues. When he was younger, he was very late to develop speech, and it was difficult to communicate with him. But eventually, his mother, Kim Walsh, learned that she was able to reach him through music. Even just communicating in singsong phrases got through to him more than speaking ever would. According to Kim, “Music is the center of who he is.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that Braeden’s connection to music has only strengthened with time. At age five, Braeden began to take adaptive piano lessons, while his older sister, Mia, took standard lessons. But in hardly any time at all, Braeden was able to perform what he was learning in his own lessons; what his sister had been learning in her lessons; ringtones and jingles he would hear around the house and on TV; and much more. He was able to play things entirely by ear, aided in large part by what was soon discovered to be perfect pitch. He has since gone on to become quite the little performer, taking part in various school talent shows and fundraisers, and entertaining senior citizens at Brightview Senior Living.
Even as he has excelled musically, Braeden has struggled in other ways, but learned how to overcome each and every obstacle. He has great difficulty with social interaction, despite wanting to have friends. As a result of anxiety, he is often harder on himself in social situations than most kids his age are, a difficulty further compounded by his issues with attention span.
Yet even in the face of great anxiety, Braeden shows time and again just what makes him a true champion. When he was afraid of dogs, he began to force himself to spend time with the neighbor’s German Shepherd, a dog he now considers to be one of his best friends. When he was afraid of birds, Kim bought the family some chickens to keep in a coop in the backyard. Braeden now happily tends to them, gathers eggs, and calls himself a chicken farmer.
His many titles don’t end there, however. Perhaps his crowning achievement is his role as a co-teacher in The Arc of Massachusetts program Operation House Call (OHC). OHC teaches medical professionals essential skills to enhance the health care of persons with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Braeden has co-taught OHC classes to medical students at both Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Medicine. Through his personal interactions with these students, he has become more comfortable interacting with his own doctors, and more open about the medical issues he experiences. Braeden has been such a wonderful addition to OHC’s team that he was even featured in the Boston Globe’s cover story on OHC in December 2017.
Braeden has expressed interest in becoming a teacher in the future, since he loves to learn and interact with little kids. But he’s also interested in being a police officer, an ice cream man, a doctor, or at the very least being on TV. Above all, however, Braeden would like to be a dad someday – and for Kim, his independence and happiness are what matter most.
Written by Katerina Daley, Development and Digital Media Associate
The Arc of Massachusetts 2019 gala, Leading by Example, will be held on March 27. To learn more, purchase tickets, or become a sponsor, please visit the official gala webpage.