The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

March 17, 2014

One special prom date

Knoxville — Prom night has long been a rite of passage for American high school students. Knoxville High School Prom 2014 will include one couple that no one ever expected to have the ability to take part. 

KHS Junior Wesley Harrison, 17, worked up the courage to ask his favorite girl, 19-year-old Senior Jessica South to prom. Wesley has Autism and Jessica is afflicted with Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects every part of one's body. The condition largely affects little girls. 

Wesley and Jessica share classes at KHS together. The two quickly formed a bond when Jessica began attending school this year. Though Jessica's condition has confined her to a wheelchair, with an inability to talk, she still has ways to communicate. According to her mother, Sharon South, whenever Wesley's name is mentioned, she smiles and waves her arms. 

As for Wesley, he finds Jessica to be a very special friend. 

"She's just a little angel," Wesley told the Journal-Express. "I sometimes call her 'Cutie Pie.'" 

Jessica's mother, Sharon, said she enrolled Jessica in school this year for the social aspects of attending. Though Jessica's ability to communicate is limited, Jessica has a Dynovox machine, which follows her eyes, to help her communicate. She has had the machine for less than a year and she is still getting used to it. 

"She loves being around people," Sharon said of Jessica. 

Wesley's grandparents, Jackie and Dennis Harrison, never thought they would see him go to prom. Wesley came to live with them at age two. At that time, he would not communicate with anyone.

Attempts were made to teach him sign language, but to no avail. All along, they wanted to get him to talk. One day, Jackie had him in a high chair. She knew he liked cheese and told him that if he wanted some, he would have to say, "cheese." Eventually, he did. His communications, including speech, improved from there.

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