She texts nonstop, hangs out with her friends, goes to the movies and out to eat.
The 19-year-old Coahulla Creek High School student is surrounded with a family and friends who love and support her, so much so they campaigned for the student body to elect her prom queen a few weeks ago.
Everyone except Carroll seemed sure she would win.
After a lifetime of being picked on for being different, she never thought she could be the same as those around her.
“At my old school, I got made fun of,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to school. It was really hard. At one point I quit school, but I came back.”
Carroll has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and posture. People with cerebral palsy can have exaggerated movements, rigidity of the limbs, involuntary movements, unsteadiness while walking or any combination of those symptoms.
She struggles with her speech — though after a few minutes with her, she becomes easier to understand — and movements on the right side of her body.
Going from the person picked on to the point of quitting school to being given a title that comes with such an implication of popularity seemed like a stretch for her.
When her name was called out on prom night announcing she had been named prom queen, Carroll was naturally and genuinely shocked. “I didn’t believe it,” she said. “I really like it here. They don’t look at me like I have cerebral palsy.”
Carroll’s friends and teachers said they believe it is a great testimony to the student body at Coahulla Creek. “Their heart is in the right place,” said Josh Swiney, Carroll’s math inclusion teacher. “They’ve been around her and wanted that for her. She’s awesome.”
Andy Toth, a sign language interpreter of the school and adviser to the sign language club, of which Carroll is a member, said he knew the student body was rallying for Carroll. “I prayed all weekend she’d get it since I couldn’t vote,” Toth said. “She is a perfect pick for it. We’ve got a good student body. They’re not caught up in stereotypes. We realize what’s real.”
As a very young girl, Carroll fit in with other children, including her foster family. “She was accepted by them, and they love her,” said Jennie Byars, Carroll’s foster mother, who became her legal guardian in 1997.
Byars had four biological children, has adopted several and has even more who refer to her as “mom,” including Carroll.
“I didn’t want her when they first called me,” Byars said. “Then I thought, ‘Why am I doing this if I can’t help the ones that really need it?’ When they brought her to me (when Carroll was 16 months old), I saw a handicapped child. But then I saw a girl with a lot of determination. She bonded with us quickly. After a couple of weeks, I didn’t see her as handicapped.”
Byars and her late husband, Slim, encouraged Carroll’s independence from an early age. “I tried to let her do what she could,” Byars said. “They wanted to give her a walker, and I said, ‘No. She doesn’t need one.’ They wanted to give her a board to talk for her, but I wouldn’t let them. We treated her like one of the kids. I tried not to limit her. You have a tendency to want to coddle her, but she didn’t want you helping her.”
Byars spent many hours taking Carroll to physical therapy and working with her to make sure she could walk and talk and live a normal life. Byars believed in her daughter, pushed her where she needed to be pushed, and comforted her when she needed to be comforted.
“Her therapist said she was stubborn, but I said she was determined,” she said. “If she hadn’t been determined, she wouldn’t be where she is now.” Carroll says many things in her life have been hard. “But it could be worse,” she said.
“It’s hard talking, but when people get to know me, they understand me better.” She can’t even pull her hair back in a ponytail because she doesn’t have full use of her right hand.
She says she’s made it as far as she has because of the support from her foster parents. “They’ve been there for me,” Carroll said. “I’m lucky to have them.”