Teen finds joy in music

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published December 21, 2018

 Nevaeh McIntosh, a ninth-grader at Glen Peters School in Macomb Township, sings “The Climb,” at the State of the County address Dec. 5. McIntosh, who has a moderate cognitive impairment, brought the audience to its feet to end the address on a high note.

Nevaeh McIntosh, a ninth-grader at Glen Peters School in Macomb Township, sings “The Climb,” at the State of the County address Dec. 5. McIntosh, who has a moderate cognitive impairment, brought the audience to its feet to end the address on a high note.

Photo by Donna Agusti

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Nevaeh McIntosh brought the audience to its feet to end the night on a high note.

The 15-year-old who attends Glen H. Peters School in Macomb Township performed at the State of the County address at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township Dec. 5. She sang “The Climb,” a Miley Cyrus song.

Early in McIntosh’s life, it was thought that she was autistic. McIntosh’s grandmother Karen McIntosh says she now has a moderate cognitive impairment, or MoCI. The Centers for Disease Control defines cognitive impairment as when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating or making decisions that affect their daily life.

“We used to call her our Jeopardy child because she always said things in the form of a question and always talked about herself in third person,” Karen said. “When she was just a baby, we knew there was something wrong visually. We didn’t discover the cognitive impairment until she was around four years old.”

Nevaeh has performed in one way or another over the last seven years, first with cheerleading at Glen Peters. She performed at the Macomb Intermediate School District opening ceremony in September.

It was at the ceremony when Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel noticed Nevaeh.

“She was one of the singers and I was a wreck after she sang,” Hackel said after the State of the County. “I thought she could help send the message that we’re a welcoming community and people do care for one another. To see her perform, you realize it’s not a disability, it’s a different ability.”

Glen Peters is one of two programs in the MISD serving students with MoCI from age three through 26 years of age.

In November, the ninth-grader was invited by Hackel to perform at the State of the County.

“He took a moment listening to the song and it hit him a whole different way,” Karen  said. “He was really moved by the lyrics of “The Climb.”

Song lyrics include, “The struggles I’m facing, the chances I’m taking sometimes might knock me down, but no, I’m not breaking.”

“I had heard the song before, but had never listened to its words,” Hackel said. “That song reminded me there are many in our community who are facing challenges and they find the strength to overcome them.”

In 2017, Nevaeh performed “The Climb” at the Glen Peters graduation ceremony.    

“We knew she could learn it fast, but I wondered if she would be brave enough to stand up in front of all those people, but she doesn’t know they’re there until they clap,” Karen said.

This year, Nevaeh takes a class at Glen Peters where she learns to cook and is taught various life skills.

“Listening (to) and singing music is her favorite,” Karen said. “She has always loved music and was influenced by the younger members of the family for rap music. She always loved Eminem and could learn his songs really quick, but we had to be careful what version she would listen to.”

On a typical day after school, Nevaeh will listen to music on the TV and radio at home.

“She’ll rotate through the house listening to the stereo and TV,” Karen said. “She’s versatile and likes classic rock and country, but mostly hip-hop and pop rock are her favorite.”

From her perspective as a legal guardian, Karen is thrilled to see her granddaughter have opportunities and witness her growth.

“When you have a special needs child, you worry all the time that opportunities in life won’t be as good for her,” she said. “People look at them different and you can’t look at them different. She has feelings and can talk and understand.”

Karen and her husband Tom adopted Nevaeh and her younger sister Hope in 2011. The family lives in Sterling Heights.   

Although Karen believes her granddaughter will never live on her own, the anticipation is she will have greater independence, leading to a job.

“She’s a happy girl and is blessed in that, with first impressions, she can tell within a minute if she is going to like somebody,” Karen said. “She is unprejudiced because she doesn’t see what you look like.”

The driving force for the McIntoshs on a daily basis is for Naveah to live a normal life.

“We try to make sure she knows she is loved and make sure she eats well and provide for her,” Karen said.

Nevaeh competes in the Special Olympics at the county and state level in events like swimming in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter.

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