Cerebral palsy hasn’t stopped 14-year-old Katie Jones from learning to ride a horse, becoming a cheerleader or joining the swim team.
Several surgeries and many months of intensive therapy have allowed Katie to retire the wheelchair in which she spent the first part of her life.
However, overcoming physical limitations has only been one part of her journey. Katie has also struggled socially.
“They’re nice to her, but they tend to want to leave her out,” Katie’s mother, Pamela Fleming, said of her daughter’s peers.
Although Katie has made great strides since beginning her freshman year at Walker High School, her middle school years were spent mostly in isolation.
Other students knew her name and were friendly to her during school hours, but Katie felt that their interest in her ended after the final bell rang.
Katie gave several classmates her number in case they wanted to call her some afternoon. No one ever did, and her texts to them went unanswered.
She also never received an invitation to the mall — a rite of passage for preteens.
“I recently talked to one of my old friends from third grade. I said, ‘I felt like no one cared.’ He said, ‘You’re crazy. You were the most popular kid there.’ I said, ‘No, I wasn’t,’” Katie said.
Then Katie became friends with another girl who had been shunned because of her size. While watching the two play one afternoon, Fleming came up with an idea for a children’s book.
“Katie the Elephant Finds Love” was released Sept. 23 and tells the story of an elephant who befriends a mouse.
“They go on an adventure and when they get to the city, there are all these different animals. There are different sizes and different shapes. They realize that we are all the same on the inside. We all want love and have love to give,” Fleming said.
The feedback that Fleming has received since the book’s release has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from parents of special needs children.
The book comes with a free audio download to make it accessible to an even wider audience.
Fleming has already started working on a sequel.
She is also trying to line up speaking engagements for herself and Katie so they can educate students about what she calls “silent bullying.”
“We want to set it up with the schools to have Katie talk to the kids about being different and that it’s okay to include them because these kids can do more than they think they can,” Fleming said.
“Katie the Elephant Finds Love” is available through online retailers. Fleming also has autographed copies.
The cost of the book is $10, and $1 from each sale goes to Children’s Hospital of Alabama.
For more information, contact Fleming at 388-8003.- Daily Mountain Eagle