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Preparing for special needs prom (Video)

By By Caty Hirst - CHIRST@VICAD.COM
May 27, 2013 at 12:27 a.m.
Updated May 28, 2013 at 12:28 a.m.

Volunteers Robert Mendoza, left, and Tori Valdez separate dresses that were donated Wednesday for the Special Needs Prom  at the Autism Network Connection office. The organization is calling for donations so that everyone wanting to attend the prom will not be hindered by cost.

To help

W: Donate attire, makeup, jewelry or money to the special needs prom

W: Every Wednesday until June 12 from 6-7 p.m.

W: Autism Network Connection office at 1501 E. Red River St., Suite B3

For more information

The 9-year-old boy carefully pulled out each jewelry box from the pile, unlatching every one to peek inside.

Austin Miller then turned the boxes around, showcasing the sparkling butterflies, silver watches and pretty pearls to the small crowd gathered around his chair.

"Oh yes, that one is very pretty," assured Rosemary Watts, founder of Autism Network Connection in Victoria.

Austin nodded, content to reach into the pile and pick out another box, but he never said a word.

Austin is severely to moderately autistic and is nonverbal, said his mother, Velma Socarras. He was diagnosed when he was 15 months old.

"He gets overstimulated, and he just shuts down," Socarras explained. "I am surprised he is in there right now with all the people, but he fixates on something else, like on the jewelry, and that helps."

Austin and his mom brought the jewelry to the small office of the Autism Network Connection, where Watts and other members of the group are working to put on a special needs prom June 15.

"We want to make it just like the other prom - make it their night in the spotlight. ... This will help the kids build self-esteem, and it will get them excited to come every year. They will hopefully be looking for dresses and attire earlier, just like the other girls do," Watts said.

Watts said many special needs people miss out on not only prom but all of the memories and traditions that go with it, like girls shopping for dresses with their mothers or the kids asking each other on dates.

The prom is open to special needs people of all ages, from little children to the elderly, Watts said, because so many people might have missed their own prom.

She said they are trying to collect enough donations to be able to provide the dresses and tuxedos for all the attendees, so her office is open every Wednesday from 6-7 p.m. to collect gently used dresses, shoes, tuxedos, suits, jewelry and cosmetics, and they are also still registering guests for the prom.

The prom is being held at the Victoria Country Club, and a disc jockey, limousine ride and food will be provided.

Socarras, whose adult son is also autistic, said going to the normal high school prom was never an option for him.

Austin, who gets what his mother calls "Ostrich Syndrome" in large crowds and tries to hide, may not be able to attend the special needs prom, either. But she said they are donating to the cause anyway by bringing the jewelry and clothes.

"It is to help everyone. It is to help these little girls feel like princesses and to help these little boys go out and dance. ... Everyone deserves an opportunity. Whether Austin goes or not, I am still proud because he had the chance to go, and he chose not to. He has that decision on his own. My other son did not have that decision. He didn't choose to be an outcast. It was chosen for him," Socarras said.

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