Emmalee This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 18, 2013
“Don't touch her – she's sick!”
This is what one woman said about Emmalee, my little sister. We were in line at a grocery store, and Emmalee was getting tired and wanted to go home. She was crying, and a five-year-old girl nearby went to touch her foot and comfort her, but her mom yelled, “Don't touch her – she's sick!” My mom turned around, shocked by the woman's ignorance. She turned to the little girl and said quietly and patiently, “She's not sick. She has some special needs where she can't understand things the way we can.”

The little girl replied, “I like her glasses.”

Then my mom turned to the child's mom and said calmly, “I hope learning about Emmalee has helped your daughter realize that some people have different needs and that she doesn't grow up to be ignorant like you.” Mom went back to her groceries.

Emmalee is four years old, and she has special needs, or as we call them, special powers. She has PMG or, polymicrogyria. Broken down, “poly” means many, “micro” means very small, and “gyria” is the medical term for wrinkles in the brain. So there are many small wrinkles in Emmalee's brain. She was born without her corpus callosum, which is the part of the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres and transfers motor, sensory, and cognitive information back and forth. This part of the brain is involved in many functions, including eye movement and maintaining the balance of arousal and attention.

People stare at Emmalee all the time. I guess some people are just not taught to be accepting of differences. Sometimes Emmalee screams or gets upset in public. Or maybe she's thirsty, so we give her a bottle. “She's four and still drinks from a bottle?” someone will ask. Yes. She also has a feeding tube in her stomach, but we aren't always able to hook up a feeding pole, so she needs to drink from a bottle.

Emmalee uses sign language to communicate. She knows 10 signs and is learning more at the United Cerebral Palsy school where she attends. Yet, it's hard knowing that most people don't understand her.

What bothers me most is when people use the word “retarded.” I find it so offensive and don't understand how people can just spit it out without even realizing what they are saying.

It's hard, but I love Emmalee to pieces, and she's smart – smarter than the doctors thought she would be. I know that some day we will look back and think how far she has come. I'm already amazed at her progress from when she was a little bitty thing in the neonatal intensive care unit, barely holding on. Now she runs, jumps, swings, climbs, and communicates with us. I want her to be able to do anything that she wants. I'm just afraid that someone will try to tell her that she can't and she will believe them.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Bethani said...
Jan. 10, 2014 at 12:09 am
I'm so sorry that this happened to your sister. I have dual disabilities- a learning disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Thank you for sharing your story. I hate when people use the word "retarded" too.
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