By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC

Cherise Gruber first learned about this column through her mother, Tommi McLaughlin, who I featured months ago and who has multiple sclerosis. Gruber then joined my “Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance” Facebook page and on there saw a post I'd made of a children's book featuring a girl with cerebral palsy, a lifelong neurological disorder affecting muscle movement and coordination.

The girl in the book immediately reminded Gruber of Katie, a 10-year-old student at Western Row Elementary in Mason, Ohio, where Gruber works as a teacher's aide.

In a telephone interview, Gruber said (with the permission of Katie's mother), “The way I describe Katie to her peers is that she thinks just like they do and likes to learn just like them, but she's trapped inside a body that doesn't do what she wants. When kids see her not feeding herself or not walking, they sometimes think that's how she is mentally. But it's not. When seeing her wanting to do what they want to do, they feel at ease wanting to be around her and developing a relationship.”

Katie requires intensive care at school, with Gruber her one-on-one aide over the last year. Katie uses a manual wheelchair and has a service dog, Buffy, a golden lab, who she acquired through Make-A-Wish Foundation in Tennessee, where she used to live.

Said 47-year-old Gruber, “She also has a wonderful sense of humor. She tells her own version of jokes using short words. One teacher I work with has a daughter with Down syndrome, who (during the school year) would visit school daily. We were trying once to tell the daughter Buffy's name and mistakenly the daughter thought we'd said 'Barfie.' Katie was still laughing about that months later.”

She doesn't have grade-level proficiency in writing and reading, primarily because her limited physical abilities make mastering those skills problematic. For example, she can't write using a pen due to tremors nor read out loud much because of speech challenges. Children usually have difficulty understanding Katie's speech. A typical seizure can keep her sidelined two days.

Gruber said, “She's an incredible young lady. She understands her limitations, wants to do what her peers do, and is fiercely independent, even though much of the time she has to have assistance.” On a side note, Gruber said Katie's favorite TV activity is watching Brady Bunch re-runs and her favorite character, Cindy.

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