*Jessica Marshall


I believe in inspiration. My second year of high school I found my inspiration in Kayla, a Down’s syndrome teen with wiry brown hair, chapped, dry lips and narrow hazelnut eyes. We first met when I signed up for a class where special needs students would go to activities with teens like me, ones without special needs. As I walked into the room that first day I was taken back by Kayla as she warmed the room with her crooked smile, goofy laugh and astoundingly positive attitude. Within minutes Kayla and I were a pair.

While the first day progressed, I got to know a lot about Kayla. I learned that she could recite the entire movie Aladdin verbatim, that she had a unique way of finger painting (it was all in the thumbs) and that she was a love-struck teen, always looking for her next catch. I realized that she would always tell you what was on her mind; whether it was that she thought your hair looked horrible that day, or that one of her classmates smelled badly. Kayla’s ability to speak her mind and to act as her own individual was, to me, inspirational.

In addition to Kayla’s peculiar attributes, I also became aware of her home life. From birth Kayla had been moved around from one family member to another; starting off in the hands of her mother, and finally landing in her uncle’s at age 5. Kayla had been exposed to one of the hardest things at an incredibly early age, rejection. Because the rejection she had received was from females, them being the ones that had abandoned her, Kayla had a particularly hard time trusting women. As a result, it took us a long time to become comfortable with one another. Still, I slowly watched as Kayla began to accept myself and other women as who they are rather than dismissing them because of their gender.

Kayla’s progress was inspiring. To think that a 17 year old with Down’s syndrome could successfully become accepting of others was admirable. To think that Kayla could look past what she had been taught all her life and become better for it helped me realize that maybe it was time for me to re evaluate myself as well.

As I did a once over of myself I grasped something, it was time for me to be less self-centered. So after the first three months that I worked with Kayla I became more active in helping out with the community, specifically the special needs community. I helped with events in my town such as the Special Olympics, the Cancer walk, and the Down’s syndrome walk. I also began to help with an after school babysitting program giving parents with special needs children a break from the chaos and stress of taking care of them. Now, I am a freshman college student and plan on helping children with special needs as a career, and I owe it all to that quirky teen Kayla, my inspiration.

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