Olivia Andrus has experienced both sides of humanity — and she’s learning that the current side is, by far, the best.
“I am still in shock by the hearts of these students,” said Beth Andrus, the mother of the Windermere High School junior. “We just want the community to know how wonderful these kids are. We’ve lived other places, and this is not normal.”
The Andrus family has discovered that there is a place for people with cognitive disabilities on the Homecoming Court, called the Wolverine Court at Windermere High.
“Students voted for her … and have been so incredibly kind to her,” Beth Andrus said. “They have been such a positive influence.”
Olivia’s name was among those called at a school pep rally to announce the court. The Best Buddies club had nominated her, and the junior class voted her on.
“These kids at Windermere … they’re like strong leaders and very confident,” Beth Andrus said. When the court names were read, the president of Best Buddies texted Olivia’s mother to share the good news. The senior class president has been supportive of Olivia, too.
“The leaders, the cheerleading squad, the lacrosse team, all the leaders have just really embraced her,” Beth Andrus said. “When she walked in all dressed up for the game, the girls came up to her and told her she looked beautiful. How grateful we are for their positive attitude and their kind spirit.”
Olivia, who recently turned 18, has struggled with cognitive disabilities her entire life.
She has Apraxia.
This is when the brain doesn’t tell the mouth muscles how to move properly, “so her brain might know what to say but her mouth might say something else,” her mother said.
“What’s kind of unique about her disability — if you saw her face to face you would never know she has a disability, but when she talks you can tell,” Beth Andrus said. “She talks slower and sometimes confuses her words.”
She also has an auditory processing disorder.
“She has normal hearing, but when it comes into the brain, it gets jumbled, and she doesn’t know how to decipher between hearing a teacher speak or some kid crumbling a piece of paper,” her mother said.
She also has dyslexia.
Olivia spends the school day in a special-education classroom, trying to catch up with her classmates.
At her previous school, she was used to her peers ignoring her and excluding her.
The family recently moved to Windermere, and her parents, Michael and Beth Andrus, agree this has changed their daughter’s life tremendously.
“She does it with this confidence,” her mother said. “Even with her having these disabilities, she’s so confident. She’s not shy.”
A MAGICAL NIGHT
Olivia and her mother made a trip to the shopping mall, and it didn’t take long for the teen to pick out two royal blue dresses.
“She had to wear her Homecoming sash all week long, so she just felt so empowered,” Beth Andrus said.
Olivia got to participate in another Homecoming tradition when she was invited to the home of Student Government Association president Carter Zavada to take part in a group photo on Saturday night before the Fall Formal.
At the dance, another student, Best Buddies member Bella Dimeo, snapped a lively picture of her and Olivia and texted it to Olivia’s mother.
Topping off the night was an invitation to IHOP with a group of students, where the Fall Formal queen, McKenna Griffitts, gave Olivia her crown.
“She just said, ‘Mom, I have friends!’” Beth Andrus said. “For the first time in her life. Having two siblings in her life, she recognizes when people are being genuine or not. It’s a tough world for Olivia.”
The mother of three said she hopes the Windermere High students realize just how much they have done for her daughter and hopes they will continue making positive impacts on the people around them.
“They have no idea how special they made Olivia feel,” Beth Andrus said. “This just doesn’t happen in our world. The character of these students is so impressive. They are a true blessing to Olivia.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.