Nashville dad walks 444 miles in a month to raise awareness for Autism

Posted at 10:31 AM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 11:46:42-04

BELLEVUE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Bellevue dad walked every day of the month of April on the Natchez Trace Parkway from Mississippi to Nashville totaling 444 miles to raise awareness for Autism after his 3-year-old son was diagnosed months earlier.

"I was hurting. I really was. After the diagnosis, there was a grieving moment. And I think that's where the idea came from. It you know, and selfishly, I think that, you know, this helped my heart heal. I needed some healing," explained Jacob's dad Brad Meshell. "It's a once in a lifetime journey for children who have a journey of a lifetime."

Meshell started walking on April 1 in Mississippi and is set to finish April 30 back in Bellevue, Tennessee.

"September 13, 2021, We got the diagnosis," explained his wife Jamie Meshell. "But I had mentally prepared. Now, I will say this. There was a difference. I knew it was coming. I think Brad didn't want to admit that it was coming."

She said Brad's walk on the Natchez Trace Parkway became his way of working though some of the emotions of the diagnosis.

"It will be okay. It just may not be what you pictured," she said. "It may not be the life that you thought it would be. Life looks different."

The Meshell's son Jacob was diagnosed with Autism during the coronavirus pandemic at only two years of age.

The diagnosis process for their son Jacob happened during COVID when both Jamie and Brad were trying to work from home.

"So COVID hit. So we never left the house. So my child hasn't interacted and he was a year old when COVID came along. He hasn't interacted with anybody or anything. And I'm like, ‘So how much of this COVID related? Is this why he's behind? Is this why he doesn't seem to really social care like who's walking by? Or, you know, where did his dad go or where did mom go?’ He never you never did that." Jamie recounted, "It was the darkest part of my parenthood ever."

When Jacob was just six months old, Jamie noticed some differences in her son.

"I remember six months being a really fun time [with my daughter] and their personalities coming out. And when I would change his diaper, I realized that he wasn't engaging, wasn't babbling and wasn't like following when playing pattycake wouldn't follow or trying to track me so I knew I was like something's different," she said.

As time went on they noticed Jacob could not retain a vocabulary.

She explained, "He would only keep like three or four and then he would retire them and then he'd get it whole new three or four words and use them for a couple weeks and then he would stop."

The couple said the diagnosis process was extensive and difficult and they wanted to help other families in Tennessee make that journey smoother. That is why they started Jacob's Audible to offer parents Autism resources as they navigate their new normal.

Jacob's dad Brad Meshell on the Natchez Trace Parkway on his 27th day of his 444-mile walk for Autism awareness.

"I don't want another parent to be that lonely going through the process," explained Jamie. "They need a friend. And I think a lot of the, you know, a lot of resources are there. I think a lot of times, we don't know how to tap into those resources. A lot of parents give up, and I don't want them to give up...Having a peer with them, and for them, that will help show them how to advocate for their child."

Brad said they hope Jacob's Audible will be an "ambassador for Autism."

"We've partnered and ambassador with Autism Tennessee, they have a ton of resources. But our job would be to get that information to people, let them know where the help is, where the resources are. So that's really where our goal is. For the Nashville area, Tennessee, as a whole. Rural areas most importantly, to give people that direction and guidance, there is there is resources, we just have to find them and get them in reach out."

Beyond helping families directly, the Meshells hope Jacob's Audible will be able to create community change.

"It's like setting up your house correctly for that person, if we set up the community a way, so that we can bring in other people into the community that have normally been unable to, you know, to participate in certain things, hopefully give them that opportunity to be a part of it," Jamie said.

"Ultimately, some legislative change," Brad explained. "I'd like to see some further action that get people encourage people to become special education teachers."

Jamie and Brad Meshell started Jacob's Audible in an effort to offer parents of children with Autism resources as they navigate their new normal.

After a month on the trail, Brad said he is in a better mental place.

"I think I'm 100% healed," he stated. "When I first started the walk, it was about the walk. It was about the miles, it was about getting through it physically and mentally on my own. But I don't feel like I'm on my own anymore."

Jamie along with other Autism allies will meet Brad at the end of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Bellevue Saturday after his month-long-walk. The welcome-home party is open to the public.

To support the walk and the family's efforts through Jacob's Audible, donate through their GoFundMe page.

"It's hope and love...You just have to seek it and find it. There's peer-to-peer mentorship. I think that's the most important. Find someone that's that's going through what you're going through. And don't be afraid to ask for help. I think that's the most important thing. But in one sentence, it's inspiration, hope and love. That's why we're out here."

Jacob's mom Jamie Meshell said she started to notice something was different about him when he was just six months old.