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In Their Own Words – The Prom that Almost Wasn’t

July 2, 2010 21 comments

This “In Their Own Words” was submitted by Cynthia Drucker, whose son has autism.

Brandon, who is now 19 years old, went to his senior prom, but it almost didn’t happen. I wrote the following (edited for content) and e-mailed it to news stations. Minutes later, I received a call from one of those stations.

Brandon, age 18, graduates with a special diploma from high  school this year. He has made many friends in this school. Brandon enjoys making new friends and staying in touch with them on the phone. He was excited to purchase the yearbook to have the friends sign it. Brandon neglected to attend a class he was scheduled to be in. He “skipped” class. He was looking for more friends to sign his yearbook. He can not tell time. He doesn’t understand the passage of time. The principal suspended Brandon for two days because of this action, as well as prohibiting him from attending his senior prom, which is just two days away. Her claim is “if he can’t be trusted to be where he is supposed to be, then how can we trust him to remain in the designated area of the prom?”

I pleaded with the principal to allow Brandon to go to senior prom. My pleas went unnoticed. Feeling it was hopeless, I cancelled Brandon’s tux rental. I don’t know if it was family outreach, prayer requests, local news stations, or numerous e-mails to newspapers that made a difference. But moments later I received a call from the principal. She said that it had been arranged for Brandon to attend the prom with a teacher escort. His  personal chaperone would be with him at all times. The news stations cancelled their story, since it had a happy ending.

Brandon attended his senior prom, dateless, and he had the best time!

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

A Night to Remember – Proms and Special Needs

May 13, 2010 17 comments

Yesterday, I read this great article about Spalon Montage in Minnesota, which provided free makeovers to girls with disabilities who were attending a prom. The program was started in 2007 by Spalon’s president, Teresa Jackson, whose daughter with autism wanted to attend her prom.

Although attending the prom is considered a rite of passage for most high school students, many special needs students are not able to participate. Below are a few inspiring stories from parents in our community whose children were able to attend prom (and other formal dances) and, indeed, had a night to remember.

September 26 may have been just an ordinary Saturday in September for some, but it was an extraordinary day for a few students at Gardner Edgerton High School (GEHS) in Gardner, Kan. Erin Easley, Communications Teacher at GEHS, arranged for her communication students, along with Kristen Kearney’s life skills class, to attend the Homecoming Dance.

As the parent of two teenagers with autism, Corinne and Cameron, I wanted them to experience typical teenager opportunities such as a Homecoming Dance, but I was prepared for it never to happen. In Ms. Easley’s social skills class, the students went over how Saturday was going to be, what they would be wearing, where they would go to eat and how they would dance the night away! She even organized transportation so they could all go out to eat at Pizza Hut and then head to the dance together. Evening approached accompanied by excited nerves, as I helped Corinne and Cameron get ready for “the Big Dance” (as Corinne would say) Ms. Easley pulled up in a van full of beaming faces who were all ready for the evening. As I snapped pictures and they drove off, I thought how lucky my children are to have such wonderful, caring teachers as Ms. Easley, Ms. Kearney and Ms. Ek. Teachers who go out of their way to organize all of this on their own time, to make sure that my children get the same experience as other students, do by going out with friends and having a good time.

When the van finally returned at 11 p.m., I was so excited to see how the night went. I kept waiting for a phone call to ask me to come get them because they were ready to go, but I never got one. They made it the whole time! I met them outside and was able to still see their faces, still beaming with joy! A major milestone happened in my children’s lives that Saturday night – they attended their first high school homecoming dance!

- Submitted by Jennifer Smith-Currier of Gardner, Kan.

When our children are born, there are many milestones that we daydream about. For my family, some of our dreams for Daniel have been different than they were for his brother, Aron, and some are very much the same.  One of my dreams for Dan (and Aron – who didn’t go to his as I recall) was to have a chance to go to the senior prom.  Well, a few years ago on a Friday night, Dan went to his prom with a girl named Jacquelyn, a very special young lady – beautiful inside and out..  Jacquelyn has a brother with autism – similar to Dan – and offered to be his date. When she heard I wanted him to go, her response was, “Everyone deserves to go to prom; I’ll be his date”.

Dan and Jacquelyn both had a great time and it was a perfect evening.  As I watched him walk her to the door and give her a kiss goodnight on the cheek, I smiled through my tears of joy and knew that a dream had come true for Dan and for me. We are both still flying high.

- Submitted by Jackie Merens of Boca Raton, Fla.

I remember when Megan was about 12 and she attended her first non-family Bar Mitzvah. Megan was jumping up and down on the dance floor and having the time of her life. I recall thinking that she is entitled to experience the same rites of passage as her typical peers and I would assure that she did so. That led to a decision to have Megan become a Bat Mitzvah. Now to prom … the preparation started with selecting the appropriate dress, getting her hair, nails and makeup done and deciding who is going with who. On the day of the prom, all the kids and their parents celebrated at our house for the “pre-prom party.” The kids, of course, were transported to the prom in a black stretch limo. When they got to the prom, they hung out with their friends, danced and ate whatever junk food they could get their hands on. The most important thing for them, as well as their parents, that night is that they are treated no differently than other teenagers who just want to have fun.

- Submitted by Lisa Helfend Meyer of Los Angeles, Calif.

My son, Zach, will be attending prom again with his beautiful prom date, Megan Meyer of Encino, Calif. (referenced in the above submission). These two kids have known each other since they were about eight years old. They’re both on the autism spectrum and do several activities together including skiing in Mammoth and most recently, whitewater rafting on the Kern River! Zach thinks Megan is the prettiest girl at his school, The Help Group in Sherman Oaks, Calif., which makes her his obvious choice of dates! To insure a most magical evening, the school goes as far as teaching prom etiquette and dancing lessons several weeks prior to prom! This year’s event is themed California Dreamin’ and the two will again attend together on June 4!

- Submitted by Priscilla Picard, Autism Speaks Los Angeles Chapter Board Member

Thank you to the members of our community who shared their children’s stories and photos with us. It is my hope that every student who wants to attend a prom has the opportunity to do so, and has a positive experience. Is your child attending the prom this year? I’d love to see photos – send them to editors@autismspeaks.org.

If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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