Despite living with the day-to-day challenges of autism, 14-year-old Jessica McCartney was determined to play a bigger role at her school and thrive among her fellow students. Like many of her peers at Shadow Hills High School, Jessica is involved in extracurricular activities -- she recently earned a black belt in karate and is now a member of the cheerleading squad.
"You would've never imagined, she fits completely right in," one of her squad mates told ABC News. "She's just a good kid."
According to ABC News, Jessica was initially inspired to try out for the team by watching high school movies. She loved how the cheerleaders seemed popular and happy with their squad mates, and convinced her mother that she would do well on her school's team.
"She has to keep her grades up and she's in regular classes with everybody else," her mother said to ABC. "She's been doing exceptionally well, and I'm very proud of her."
Other inspiring high school cheerleaders include Boca Raton High School's 'special' cheerleaders. Although the seven girls on the new spirit squad each struggle with disabilities, their positive energy and passion for cheerleading have touched the entire school.
An in New Jersey, an effort to challenge stereotypes about cheerleaders led Pop Warner and the Science Cheerleader organization to break the Guinness World Record for "World's Largest Cheer" this past November. Held at the Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton, 1,300 cheerleaders from across the East Coast did a five-minute cheer about the importance of science and engineering.