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President Welcomes Two Special Girls to White House

Nov. 14, 1961 - President Kennedy told two little White House visitors today that they were better behaved than his own children. Sheila McGrath, 7 years old, is mentally disabled, while Kammy McGrath, 5 years old, is not. The President smiled as he took Sheila by the hand and led her toward a hobby horse in one corner of the Cabinet room. “You want to come over with me?” he asked gently. “Attagirl.” Sheila got on the hobby horse and rocked briefly. Then he reached into the pockets of his gray suit and pulled out gifts for the children. Sheila received an inaugural medal, Kammy a pen. Both girls are victims of phenylketonuria, a genetic-caused biochemical imbalance that can cause mental disability. Sheila was diagnosed at a year old, but a preventive diet was not available until she was 18 months old. By that time, brain damage had occurred. Kammy was tested at birth because of her sister’s condition. It was discovered that she, too, was a disease victim. She was placed on a special diet and no brain damage occurred. President Kennedy’s intends to bring the issue of intellectual disability "out of the shadows,” spur funding for research, and to create new programs for special education, training, and rehabilitation.


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