Gifted and Disabled: 10-Year-Old Beats the Odds in Essay Contest and in Life

ByABC News

May 13, 2008— -- Jemma Leech, a 10-year-old who was one of our Persons of the Week last month, has cerebral palsy, an incurable condition that impairs her ability to communicate. Until now she has communicated with the world by tapping a touch screen with a xylophone stick as her mom steadied her hand. It is a time-consuming and often exhausting process, yet she has managed to write award-winning, intimate and wise poetry.

Last week , Leech received an early birthday present, a new $15,000 computer donated by a Swedish company that was made aware of Jemma's condition by a report on ABC affiliate KTRK in Houston. The machine allows her eyes to scan the letters instead of having to tap them out with her arm, so she will be able to communicate without any assistance.

"This gift will no doubt change my life." Jemma told ABC News. "This wondrous machine will enable me to talk to my friends."

She'll need intensive training on the new machine, but if all goes well Jemma will eventually be able to write with complete independence.

On paper, Leech is a regular 10-year-old who goes to school and plays with her friends, but she has some lofty goals. A lover of music, opera and writing, she someday hopes to win a Grammy, an Oscar and a Nobel Prize in literature.

"All in the same year, please," she adds.

On paper, Leech is a regular 10-year-old, albeit one with some lofty goals. But Jemma has cerebral palsy, a disease for which there is no known cure.

She has proved to have a remarkable talent for writing. Recently, she beat out 1,600 kids in an essay contest after judges unanimously voted her the winner, only to later learn that the budding novelist can't sit up without support.

Click here to read her award-winning essay, "Autobiography" by Jemma Leech

Read "A Christmas Carol 2," Leech's version of Charles Dickens' story in the format of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

Unable to communicate until the age of 5, Jemma started tapping a touch screen with a xylophone stick, at that age, while her mom helped her keep her arm steady. Her thoughts came pouring out.

But the process is tedious and exhausting. It took Leech 10 minutes to answer just one question. And though it can take hours to finish typing out one piece of work, the outcome is well worth the wait.

Here is an excerpt from Leech's winning essay about a park near her former home in London, where she lived until she was 5.

"I remember in London the winters were warm and wet. No snow or ice, just rainy gumboot-puddled walks in Brockwell Park, while the summer-packed paddling pool filled of its own accord with rainwater, autumn leaves and rainbows of crisp bags. We disappeared in the secret garden underneath palisades of sleeping creeping clematis and wisteria, swapping dry dark with the wet light as we trailed the paving maze to the fishpond at its heart."

Leech is also a poet. She writes with a style as impressive as her essays. When she was 9, she wrote:

"When I am asleep

I am somebody.

Stripped naked

Of all the trappings of myself.

An empress of lands of plenty,

With sackfuls of love, respect."

"To have a child who consistently ... can completely take your breath away, with their breadth of knowledge and way of expressing it, is pretty amazing," says her father, Perryn Leech.

Read "From Nobody to Somebody," a poem by Jemma Leech.

Her teachers are equally impressed with Leech's talent. "She writes better than me," says Pansy Gee, one of Leech's teachers. "She has been an inspiration."

Not surprisingly, Leech also loves to read.

"I love the Harry Potter books and the Narnia series, too," she says, "And Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Dickens, too. I just love books."

In a few months, Leech will get a new computer that will allow her eyes to scan the letters instead of having to tap them out with her arm. She will be able to communicate without any assistance.

Despite everything, Leech and her parents feel lucky; she has an incredible mind that can overcome many obstacles, they say.

"She can communicate, and others with this condition sometimes can't," says her mother, Caroline. "She wants to be a voice for those people."

Maybe that Nobel prize isn't such a lofty goal after all.

Hanna Siegel contributed to this report.

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