Find Your Passion: An Everyday Inspiration

Kayla Terry When Kayla Terry joined brother Ian at preschool, she was one of the first mainstream students to attend UA's nationally renowned early intervention program. (Zach Riggins)

By Sarah Caroline Willcox

When Kayla Terry’s high school English teacher assigned her class to write about someone they admired, Terry knew she would write about her brother, Ian. Little did she know, this tribute to her older brother, born with Down syndrome, would leave her with more than a good grade.

Terry, a sophomore at The University of Alabama, is the self-published author of “An Everyday Inspiration,” a book about her family’s journey with Ian through his life with Down syndrome.

“I just wanted to honor my brother, and it kind of snowballed,” Terry says. “More and more people started hearing about it, and I realized how many people Ian had impacted just by being himself.”

When Ian was born in 1986, Down syndrome was not a thoroughly researched disorder. In fact, while still in the hospital with her newborn baby, Mrs. Terry was informed by doctors that her son was “retarded” and given options of adoption or institutionalization, Terry says. In present day, awareness of Down syndrome is much higher, but there is still apprehension in new parents raising a special needs child.

Kayla Terry
UA student Kayla Terry hugs her older brother outside UA's Rise Center. (Zach Riggins)

This is where Ian’s story has the most influence, Terry says. Writing the book, Terry said she never expected it to affect those outside her family who did not know Ian. However, through her writing, she was able to reach other families who had similar experiences to the Terry’s.

“After (the book) was published, we had a big party at the RISE Center, (home to UA’s nationally renowned early intervention program for preschoolers with disabilities), and I had parents telling me, ‘You don’t know how much I needed this when my baby was born. We were thrown into a world you can’t imagine,’” Terry says. “It’s terrifying for all new parents, especially those with a special needs child.”

When she began her paper for the AP English class, Terry says she was stumped for the words to begin Ian’s story. Her mom’s suggestion that she dedicate it to Ian, rather than just put words on paper, inspired Terry’s project. She interviewed family members, former teachers, employers of Ian and friends.

After turning in her draft, Terry was encouraged by her family and friends to continue writing Ian’s story as a potentially publishable essay. Terry’s grandmother bought her a binding machine to print presentable copies of the book to others.

“Eventually, my mom said, ‘Why don’t we really publish it?’” Terry says. “We shopped around, and found a company that lets you self-publish, so no one could manipulate my words. I also designed a cover with a graphic designer, promoted it with my brother, and we financed it on our own.”

Kayla Terry
Terry’s book about her brother began as paper for her high school English class. (Zach Riggins)

The launch of the book was held at The RISE Center, a nonprofit school funded by the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences and private donors. The school is designed for special needs and mainstream students ages birth to 6-years-old. Ian first attended the school when he was 13-days-old, and Terry was one of the first mainstream students to go through the school.

“When my mom was first asked to send me (to RISE), people thought there must be something wrong with me, too,” Terry recalls. “I’m so proud my parents let me do it. I can’t imagine what kind of person I would be without Ian and RISE.”

Dr. Martha Cook, director of RISE, says when classrooms began integrating children without special needs to the program, none of the students noticed a difference. They benefitted from each other’s character, compassion and diversity.

“Most young children can’t count chromosomes, and Kayla thought a wheelchair was just a neat way to get around,” Cook says. “Growing up, she has had a unique experience that has molded her into a poised, compassionate and confident young lady.”

Terry credits her years at RISE and her older brother for the person she has become. This has influenced both her perspective on life and her future. Through her writing skills and education at the University, Terry hopes to use her talents to promote awareness of special needs.

“I have a passion for the special needs community. It hasn’t gotten a strong voice yet, and I’d love to do something with media through the University to give it a voice,” Terry says.

As for Ian, he has gone full circle and now works, full-time, at RISE. Terry says he is proud to show other parents what he has done and loves interacting with the kids. She says he is truly her “everyday inspiration.”

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Sarah Caroline Willcox is a senior at The University of Alabama, majoring in public relations, with a minor in English. She is from Birmingham.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.