Daniel J Vance

DeeAnn Konrad’s son technically doesn’t have a disability, but her challenging experience with him the last year certainly has softened her heart toward people with disabilities. She reads this column in the Tea-Harrisburg Champion in South Dakota.

“We had concerns with Brenner in the womb,” said 36-year-old Konrad in a telephone interview of her son. “Doctors said early on he may not receive the amount of oxygen needed to develop brain capacity. They also said he could develop mental retardation, and have Down syndrome and low birth rate.”

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None of that happened. The Konrads felt as if they had dodged a bullet.

“Then I noticed at three months Brenner always putting his head to one side after I placed him in the bassinet,” said Konrad. “We tried a number of things to change his habit. Later, we began noticing this soft spot on his skull.”

A physician diagnosed Brenner with plagiocephaly, which an American Association of Neurological Surgeons website defines as “a condition in which specific areas of an infant’s head develop an abnormally flattened shape and appearance.”

Plagiocephaly has become more common since 1992, the year the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that infants sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons claims this change has caused a “dramatic” increase in infants with plagiocephaly.

“The flat spot (with Brenner) was on the top right back of his head,” she said. “If left untreated, doctors said he could develop hearing and vision issues, and have trouble later on finding football, bike and baseball helmets that fit.” To correct the condition, Brenner was fitted with a cranial remolding helmet, which until recently he wore 23 hours daily. Now 14 months old, he wears it eight hours during the day, and will continue wearing it for several months.

When out in public, Konrad sees people staring at her helmeted son, hears comments, and feels compelled to answer questions. She sees herself now as an educator and advocate, and writes a regular newspaper column in which she has revealed her son’s condition.

Waiting in doctors’ offices, she often hears parents of children with disabilities talk of their difficulties. “I have developed an appreciation for those families that live that life (of disability) daily, and a respect for the commitment they have for their kids,” she said.

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