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A Russian Orphan Becomes a Nationally Recognized Special Needs Advocate

Kelsey, age 11, has been diagnosed with PDD which is on the autism spectrum. She was adopted from a Russian orphanage when she was 14 months old weighing less than 14 pounds. Alone, sick, starving and emaciated, her head had been shaved due to lice. When she was adopted, no one could predict whether she was ever going to be able to walk or talk.

Ten years later, Kelsey continues to amaze everyone and defy the odds. She is currently a 5th grade special education student who has won more than 35 pageant titles. Kelsey is one of the youngest children in the country to have received two awards from the Kohl's Kids Care Scholarship Program which recognizes young people who make a difference in their community. This summer she also received the gold president's volunteer service award with a congratulatory letter from President Obama. In addition, she has raised thousands of dollars to help children in need and their families.

Kelsey's pageant platform is "Special Needs Means Special Abilities" - - the importance of self-advocacy for individuals with developmental disabilities". She believes that individuals with disabilities can achieve great things in life and make a tremendous positive difference in the lives of others. When she grows up, she wants to be a role model for others and start her own charitable foundation that will support children with special needs.

Recently, Kelsey competed in the Miss Georgia Elementary School Pageant where she won the prestigious National Pageantry Magazine Spirit Award. The Pageantry Magazine Spirit Award is awarded for promoting friendship, sportsmanship, and character development. It is awarded to individuals who, by their selfless actions and deeds, have a profound and positive influence in the lives of those they touch. Kelsey is a proud recipient of this award and understands she is one of the few individuals with developmental disabilities who have ever received this honor. If you would like to follow Kelsey's journey, her Facebook page is: Kelsey Norris - Special Needs Means Special Abilities.

Carol Norris
Bonaire, GA

When You're Smilin'. . .

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. —Mother Teresa

My beautiful 8 year old autistic grandson, Liam, continues to amaze me with his unique perspective on life. I want to share a story that was relayed to me recently that demonstrates why he is such a special boy with an amazing way of communicating his special observations on everyday life that so many of us overlook.

Liam and his family belong to a small neighborhood swimming pool where they spend the hot summer weekends with other residents in the area. Recently, Liam was lounging near the pool when one of the adults nearby began talking in a somewhat stern manner to another about some issue of importance to the man. As Liam casually listened to the man's diatribe he suddenly raised his hand as he no doubt was taught to do in school and said politely to the gentleman, "excuse me, excuse me". The man stopped in mid-conversation and recognizing the little interrupter said, "yes Liam, what is it?" Liam looked him in the eye and said, "are you happy?" The man, somewhat taken aback by the question, said in response, "why yes, I'm happy". Liam then said to the man, "then do this" as he took his little fingers and, forcing the edges of his mouth upward, demonstrated to the man what a big smile looked like on a happy person. You see, Liam is a naturally happy boy who believes that everyone should be happy like him and be able to share that happiness by using their smile as an expression of that feeling.

Isn't it a blessing that we are given this wonderful lesson of life from this special little guy who wants all of us to be happy in the way that he is.

So I will close with this thought from Liam: Are you happy? Then do this!

A Happy Grandpa
Decatur, IL

Every Child Matters

Kelsey, age 11, has been diagnosed with PDD which is on the autism spectrum. She was adopted from a Russian orphanage when she was 14 months old weighing less than 14 pounds. When she was adopted, no one could predict whether she was ever going to be able to walk or talk. Ten years later, Kelsey continues to amaze everyone and defy the odds. She is currently a 5th grade special education student who has received national recognition. She is a pageant queen with more than 35 titles and is active in gymnastics, dance, competitive swimming and cheerleading.

She won two prestigious community service awards this summer. In July, she received the gold President's Volunteer Service Award with a signed letter on White House stationary from President Barack Obama. She received this award for volunteering for over 100 hours during the past year to address some of the most pressing needs in the community, state and country.

In June, it was announced that she won the prestigious local community service award from the Kohl's Care National Scholarship Program. The program recognizes and rewards young volunteers (ages 6 - 18) who help make their communities a better place to live. Their actions must be above and beyond what is expected of a child his or her age.

Kelsey won these two awards for her work associated with her pageant platform "Special Needs Means Special Abilities" - - the importance of self-advocacy for individuals with developmental disabilities". She believes that individuals with disabilities can achieve great things in life and make a tremendous positive difference in the lives of others. When she grows up, she wants to be a role model for others and start her own charitable foundation that will support children with special needs.

She is a shining example of the potential that exists for every special needs child and their ability to help others and make their communities a better place to live. Kelsey also represents the value of every child regardless of the circumstances of their birth and the right that each has to be adopted and loved.

Warner Robins, GA

My Life Matters

I am an 11 year old special education student who is on the autism spectrum. My mom found me in a Russian orphanage. I was alone, sick, starving and emaciated. My head had been shaved due to lice. The doctors told her that I was special needs and I may never be able to walk or even talk. She adopted me anyway because she loved me. She said the most heart breaking thing she ever saw in her life was "snack" time at the orphanage. She said that the ladies broke off small pieces of hard bread and gave them to each toddler to eat. The bigger male children ate their bread quickly and went after the other children's bread. They were able to take away the other much smaller children's bread and eat it themselves. These other kids were left sobbing and hungry. My mom said that, when I received my bread, I clutched it in my fist and curled up in the fetal position with the bread hidden under my body. When the bigger boys tried to take it away from me, they could not get to it. No matter how hard they pushed, pulled and kicked me, I would not let go of my food. After a while, they gave up and moved on to the next child. I have fought to survive and make a difference my whole life. I am active in gymnastics, dance, swim team and cheer team. I am also a pageant queen and have raised over $5,000 to help other children and families.

My only goal in life that I have not yet reached is to compete for Team USA at the Special Olympics World Games in gymnastics and swimming. Someday, I will be on that team. I will keep training daily and not give up. When I grow up, I want to start my own charitable foundation to help others. I realize that other people's lives sometimes depend upon who is willing to help them. My life matters and I want to help others.

Kelsey Norris
Bonaire, GA

Autistic Man Owns and Operates His Own Art Studio

As a small child, I would get lost in music to the point I wouldn’t respond to my own name. My parents knew I was a little different, but they didn’t know what it was. When started kindergarten, I would hang around the teachers more than I would children my own age. Without an official diagnosis, my parents did things to encourage me to try new things. I was given piano lessons and encouraged to draw. My parents were always very supportive of my special interests.

I wouldn’t officially be diagnosed on the autism spectrum until I was an adult. By this time, I had already graduated high school and college with honors and without any special learning services or IEP. Before being diagnosed, I had started my own business to produce the films and books I wanted to write. Without any outside financing, I had written, directed, produced, starred in, and edited my own TV show and movies. My last feature film was shown in Mumbai, India, where I won Best Experimental. I have also gotten my filmography on IMDB.

As an independent artist, I will sometimes get a negative review for being different. I don’t mind being different, especially when my fans are comparing me to J.D. Salinger or talking about how my illustrations for children's books belong in a museum for children's book art.. The joy for me as an artist with autism is when I have somebody tell me how important my work was to them. I have had high school students do class projects on my books and students in college write their final papers on my works. I get fan mail from people around the world telling me they wished they would have read my books earlier in life. It would have saved them a lot of heartache.

My goal in life now is to become an advocate for individuals with autism and to increase awareness about it in our society. I want to create a positive image of what autism can be.

Jack Gunthridge
Bowling Green, OH


Meet Lorilea...A sweet young lady with tons of creativity and imagination. She loves to draw and write short stories. She has a beautiful voice and is a wonderful singer. She also enjoys Karate. It helps with her self-confidence and strength to do better and try harder.

Lorilea was diagnosed with Autisim Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with PDD and ADHD at the age of 3. Before her diagnosis she displayed behaviors of a typical toddler and was learning to speak Spanish at an early age and then one day something changed as if a switch was flipped. Up until her diagnosis I was not aware of the symptoms of Autism. All I knew was that my sweet angel couldn't speak to me and tell me how she felt. I witnessed her bang her head against a wall in frustration because she couldn't tell me what was wrong or what I could do to help her. I was a young mother and in the beginning was in complete denial. But once Lorilea was enrolled in school her father and I were able to work with her teachers on how to help her cope with her meltdowns. She mimicked movie phrases as a means of communication with us.

As time went on Lorilea was also diagnosed with separation anxiety. But she continued to work hard and has showed great progress from the help at her school, her doctors and her family. In the fall she will begin 8th grade and has been able to move away from some of her therapy classes. I am hoping by high school she will begin inclusion classes. She continues to surprise me and I'm excited to see what the future holds for her.

But there is nothing more certain than this wonderful girl has my heart forever.

Bedford, OH

Special Needs Means Special Abilities

Kelsey is a 4th grade special education student who has been diagnosed with autism. She has not let that diagnosis define or limit her. She is active with gymnastics, dance, swimming, cheerleading and pageants. In fact, during the past several months, she has won over 30 pageants and volunteered for more than 100 service hours on related community service projects. Earlier this week, she was invited to make a special presentation for the special education students enrolled at Bonaire Elementary School. The students were excused from their regular class to come to a central location and participate.

Kelsey's pageant platform is that "Special Needs Means Special Abilities" - individuals with disabilities can make a difference and have a positive impact on other people's lives. During her motivational presentation, she showed them her display board, some of her pageant sashes and one of her pageant trophies. She encouraged them to reach for the stars and pursue their dreams. She also explained the importance of making a difference in your community. It was a great day sharing information about a platform that means so much to Kelsey.

During the past three months alone, she has been a featured speaker at a regional autism walk advocacy event; provided the featured entertainment (tap dancing) at a local pageant for developmentally disabled middle and high school girls; coordinated a community service project addressing animal cruelty prevention by collecting almost 250 pounds of dog food for a local humane society; volunteered at her mother's Pre-Kindergarten Sunday School class; and along with several other local pageant title holders, visited a local personal care home to play bingo with the residents and distribute gifts. Kelsey wants to start her own charitable foundation someday. I am very proud of my little pageant queen.

Carol Norris
Bonaire, GA

Addressing the Cause, Refusing to Cope Around the Symptoms

People told us that our son was just being a boy, that he’d outgrow his immaturity. I asked, “If he’s going to outgrow it, why is it getting progressively worse?” No one knew what to do. Hugs more like body slams. Homework & mealtimes were a constant struggle. Notes from teachers & principal about his behavior. He started describing himself as “stupid” and his self-esteem plummeted. No one had a solution that worked. I brought home books to get him interested in anything besides Minecraft.

Then I started working as Assistant Director at an Achievement Center working with kids who struggle with behaviors, academics or social skills. I learned about the methods and goal of the program. Then I started to notice how much in common my son’s behavior was in line with kids who come to the center. It all clicked, and it took me seeing both sides--knowing my son and the information gained from working there-- to put it together. I brought our son in for the sensory motor and cognitive assessment and it showed that he'd been struggling with ADHD and ASD. I was shocked and encouraged at the same time because I finally had real answers. It all made sense. Finally!

Blessedly, my initially skeptical husband followed my lead. During the program, our son started showing empathy. Toward the end of the "boot camp for the brain" program, he stayed seated for meals. His became less argumentative, he simply became a happier kid! And he started reading above his grade level... simply because he enjoyed it! His progress astonished us. He was voted Assistant Patrol Leader by his boy scout troop, he earned a spot in his school’s spelling bee the following year and now asks to go to the library, which makes my heart soar. His maturity and self-confidence are up. His grades are way up. He makes an effort to keep friendships. It gives me goosebumps thinking how much this program creating permanent, lasting change has impacted our family and I talk about it any chance I get. God is so good!

Sherry F.
Cary, NC

Symptoms and Tests for Asperger Syndrome

he fact as to why Asperger syndrome occurs in the body of individuals is still unknown, however it has been mostly considered that it occurs because of inheritance i.e. from parents to child. This syndrome as of now is considered as a unique disorder, which is why number of people facing the syndrome is still unknown.

Diagnosing Asperger

If an individual is diagnosed with syndrome then doctor shall begin with the treatment on the patient. But before beginning with it, he shall look out for his medical history to find if he has any allergy or disorder. People suffering from Asperger have low muscle tone or dyspraxia or also might go through the coordination issues which are important to be treated. But before beginning with the treatment, an individual should be tested for the same which includes conducting blood tests and X rays which will be helpful in determining the physical disorder in a person.

How can the syndrome be treated?

For individuals, who are not suffering with physical disorder, patient can consult a specialist in the field who is proficient of dealing with these disorders. Asperger treatment UK proceeds by strictly observing the progress and development in an individual. Herein the doctor may observe the child’s behavior, his speech or how he play which shall be evident on how is he progressing with the treatment. Doctor may also look for inputs from relatives or parents of the children to know what difference has been noticed in them after the treatment.

ASC HealthCare
Bolton, United Kingdom

Our Princess, Insert Label Here

We have been on a 5 year journey of experimentation, failings, labels, and stereotypical comments.

She's "naughty, loud, weird"... "you need to get her checked out"..... "there is something wrong with her".... "have you considered testing?......."

Glasses prescribed, grommets inserted, hearing tested, IQ testing, and behavioral optometrist. Each specialist sending detailed reports on how to help her.

But still the label "naughty, misfit, failure, loud." were how people viewed her.

Well, we just know her as Jenna.

Finally we received a diagnosis of Autism this year.

Getting it wrong for the past 5 years I asked myself these questions:

Where does she fit on the spectrum?

What have I missed?

What treatment is needed?

What do I need to change?

Have I made the problem worse?

How do I shut up the skeptics?

How do I embrace her uniqueness?

Does she need "the label"?

Putting all the rules, diagnosis, stigma, and people's comment aside, I can come to a conclusion.

Jenna is Jenna and Jenna can be Jenna and no label will change that I love my Jenna.

She is unique, different and honesty will find it difficult to fit into cultural norms for a very long time.

That diagnosis of ASD can't change.

I can't change that my daughter can't read social cues correctly.

I can't change that creating friends will continue to be a challenge for her.

I can't even change that she is the most literal person I have ever met.


If I could make a wish, dream big for Jenna it would be very simple; I want people to value her, laugh with her, and embrace her uniqueness.

She has the potential to change the world. I just pray the world will take the time to see the greatness that is my 10-year-old ASD kid.

Jeramy Hope
Brisbane, Australia
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