Valley Voices

Autism doesn’t keep teens from prom fun

I want to introduce you to some awesome teens. Kids who are thoughtful, gracious and even noble, when no one else is looking. So often we read stories about the “bad kids.” We are told that this generation is lazy, disrespectful, or just plain checked out.

But this has not been my experience. In my experience, there are some truly great souls that have come through my home as exchange students, club members and teammates. You need to know two of them.

About eight years ago, I was re-acquainted with a friend named Julie and her husband, Dave. We had grown up in town, gone to Clovis West High School together but had not connected since.

It was now 2005, and our kids were placed on the same T-ball team. No longer in the high school world, we were simply moms of three little boys, bonded by laundry and exhaustion. We became fast friends.

As the baseball season progressed, I got to know more about their family. Their son Jace and our son Mitch were on the baseball team together, and we both had older and younger sons in common. From what we could tell, our lives were pretty parallel. Yet, as I would find out, there was one glaring difference.

Dave and Julie’s oldest son, named Nick, was lovingly referred to as Nick-Nack. The first time I met Nick, he said, “Hi! You have something on your face.” I cracked up. Simple, honest and sweetly genuine to me, but I could tell Julie was embarrassed.

She quietly said, “He has autism.” I was honestly grieved for her. No parent wants to be told that her child is different, or will likely suffer just for being himself. Luckily, Nick was an upbeat and spirited kid, and I grew to love him just as many others did.

Nevertheless, every time Jace went to bat or had a great outing pitching, I could tell it was sweetness and sorrow for his parents. Jace was a talented kid with so much possibility, but the reality was that Nick would face difficulty.

Nick was often too forward with strangers, was prone to wandering off, and had other quirks that could make you take notice. In many instances, he would never be what society views as “normal.” Nick’s family would always spend more energy than average just loving and raising their beautiful boy.

My friendship with Julie grew, bonded by boys and sports. Both Jace and Mitch now play varsity baseball for local Clovis high schools, our little ones made the “All Stars” on their Little League teams and our oldest boys are doing their thing too. As usual, Julie and I were having discussions about our endless driving schedule, baseball, boys and life.

Our banter was interrupted by the realization that it is prom season. If you have teens and have been paying attention to prom etiquette, the pressure to creatively ask a date, impress with your ride and meal, and show up looking like The Bachelor or Bachelorette is more pressure than I felt on my wedding day!

I imagine Julie always expected Jace to attend his prom, but Nick, with his disability, would likely get left out. Especially in the high-pressure world that is high school today.

“Nick-Nack” wanted to go to the prom. He wanted to be included, and he had a date in mind. Her name is Claire. ANY boy would have been lucky to take this lovely young lady to the prom. She is kind, smart, a great athlete, and she is stunningly beautiful inside and out. Nick had some planning to do.

I have known Claire’s parents for years, and they should be most proud. This is a gem of a young lady.

“Nick-Nack” just needed the courage to ask her to prom, and for his date to agree. In the Instagram and Snapchat world of today, it took courage and strength of character for both of these kids to proudly share this day, and be prepared for whatever reception awaited them.

Nick carefully colored a handwritten card with a bee on the front and honey pot inside, asking, “Will you be a honey and go to prom?” Simple, beautiful, honest. Just like Nick always has been. Spoiler Alert: Claire said yes.

In a delicious twist of fate, Julie has prom pictures of both of her boys. All dressed up, ready for a great evening; one expected, one unexpected. Pure joy! From what I’ve been told, they had a great time, and they showed others that you can be a bit outside the norm, yet still be included. Your disability doesn’t define you. Their example made a difference.

Life often doesn’t turn out like we expect it to. Nick will always face a less certain future than Julie or her husband, Dave, would like. There will likely be times he is left out. Yet on this day in May, he went to the prom with a beautiful girl. He was just like any other student.

For all of you who doubt that there are kids who will inspire us, give us courage, and bring out the best in us, they are all around us. Now you are lucky enough to know two of them.

Stacy Borchardt of Clovis is a health care sales representative for a Fortune 100 company in the Valley. She has three boys, three dogs and gets no sleep. She would happily be on any baseball field any day of the week. Write to her at smborchardt@gmail.com.

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