Kelsey, who has also been diagnosed with autism, was 11 months old when the two met, and she weighed just 11 pounds.
“When I walked into the room, there were 20 or so babies and toddlers,” Norris remembered. “One of them said, ‘Momma,’ and it was this one.”
From that time, Norris recalled a day when she could visit Kelsey but couldn’t bring her home yet. Always among the smallest of the group, Kelsey — along with other small children — was a target when meal time came around.
Others lost their bread, but Kelsey clinched hers in a fist and covered it with her body, taking a few kicks and pushes from older children but keeping her food.
“I think that tenacity, that will to live, kept her alive long enough until I found her,” Norris said.
In the years since, the two have bonded while Kelsey developed a variety of interests. She does gymnastics, dance and even cheerleading, and her mother has been there every step of the way.
“I always kiss her,” Kelsey said.
Through her gymnastics and dance classes at KidsAmerica in Perry, Kelsey became interested in pageants. In the last year, she’s competed in 40 pageants and won 35 titles, and just two of those were specifically for special needs children.
The others had Kelsey working with and competing against the general population of participants, and that has been a good experience for her, Norris said.
“Since she’s started pageants, eye contact, the ability to walk up to peers she doesn’t know … has improved,” she said.