About two months ago I picked up my autistic daughter from school as usual – but her behavior when she got in the car was very UNusual. She was almost bouncing in her seat. She told me there was a permission slip in her folder. I had never seen her so excited about a permission slip before – but I would soon find out this was no ordinary permission slip – it was a VERY BIG DEAL. As we pulled out of the school parking lot she explained it all to me: “Mommy, we’re going to have a prom! It’s going to be so much fun! I have to buy a dress! And we’re going to dance and have dinner!”
A young man at our local high school who volunteers his time mentoring “special needs” classmates on the track team decided they needed a prom and decided to do something about it. (Bravo for him!) Under the guidance of my daughter’s special education autism program, he organized a “for real” PROM. It was held at a local country club, with a DJ, a photo booth and a hired “official” photographer. Staff from the program would be there as guides and chaperones, along with “typical” kids from the high school who wanted to help. (Don’t ask me how it was paid for – I don’t know. All I know is that it didn’t cost us a penny!)
My daughter doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to socialize outside of immediate family and church. Her biggest obstacle to friendship has always been proximity. Her school program includes children from five surrounding towns and even farther away – none of her classmates live near us – so hanging out with her peers is a rarity. This would be a whole night of hanging out! Oh, and eating and dancing – two of her favorite things to do! I was concerned about the eating part since she’s so picky, but the planners were smart and made it a buffet with mostly kid-friendly food. She was set!
She couldn’t stop talking about it – FOR TWO MONTHS. At times I wanted to put earplugs in my ears, but mostly I was just overflowing with gratitude for this young man, who up until right before the dance even managed to stay anonymous! During April vacation we all went to visit my mother and she and my daughter went out for a grandma/granddaughter shopping trip and bought THREE dresses! Her excitement was palpable. And I was excited for her.
The day of the dance she could hardly contain herself. She showered when she got home from school and I did her hair (as much as she would let me). I did her nails with her favorite magenta nailpolish, and her big sister did her makeup (I’m hopeless with makeup!).
When we got to the country club I was going to walk her in, but there was staff, along with the photographer, at the entrance, and she just got out of the car and said, “See you later mom!” And I choked up a little. Well, maybe a lot.
Mostly I am happy to see my kids growing up and getting more independent. It’s frightening, and I wish I could protect them, but I’m not the kind of mom that wishes they could stay babies forever. Nope. A person might think I was choked up over my little girl growing up – but that’s not it at all. Most autism parents spend a lot of time worrying about the future. I am one of them. I don’t know if my daughter will be able to live an independent life, or if she will always need some kind of supervision. Her life is VERY different from that of other kids her age. And even at this dance there was pretty intense supervision – for the kids that definitely needed it, and for kids like her who just need some guidance here and there.
But in that “See you later mom!” moment, she was going to a dance with her friends. I didn’t have to worry if her behavior would be appropriate or if she would get teased without realizing it. I didn’t have to worry about her having someone to sit with or talk to. I didn’t have to worry. That was HUGE. That’s what made me choke up. She was going out, without me, and I didn’t have to worry.
When I picked her up they were taking a group picture and getting ready for the last dance. I was there to see it. All “levels” of kids – “high” and “low” functioning – boys in suits and ties, girls in dresses – all having a blast. There were funny hats, inflatable instruments to play, silly sunglasses and JOY. Some danced, some just walked around with their air guitars or saxophones pretending to play. And it was all okay. There was acceptance all around, and no worries.
This was the first time her program has ever done anything like this. And I hope they do it again. It meant the WORLD to my daughter, the world to me, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. It was a priceless experience, and will be a treasured memory.