I am the mother of two handicapped children. My 23-year-old son has Down Syndrome and my 18-year-old son, Joshua, has autism. Joshua is a junior at Tooele High School and last month decided to compete in the 2014 Mr. and Miss Amazing Pageant. As a family, we were so surprised and delighted when he was named Mr. Amazing!
This was the first time we were involved in the pageant. Each contestant was assigned an escort to help them know where to go, what to do, and most important, help them shine when they were on stage. I was so impressed with the attitude of total commitment exhibited by these chaperones. These are high school peers who have to qualify for this opportunity. They are teenagers of exceptional compassion and acceptance.
I spent part of the competition backstage waiting to accompany Joshua in his talent performance. I really expected to see the “normal” kids chatting with each other, or busy on their cell phones, tweeting and whatever. But to my surprise, they were completely focused on their responsibilities, helping calm the contestants who were nervous, making sure “every hair” was in place, and encouraging and reassuring them they would do well!
The atmosphere backstage was so positive and electrifying, it took my breath away. As a family, we always support and cheer our children, but to see this tremendous crowd, both backstage and in the auditorium, helping to inspire confidence and expressing such approval, it made the night truly overwhelming.
A few weeks ago, Tooele High had its Junior Prom at the Capitol. Joshua was so excited to participate, and he and his date learned the promenade dance that was to be performed. When the promenade was over, they announced the royalty of the evening. Joshua was named Prom King 2014! Such an incredible honor! Sometimes the kids do a Twitter or Facebook campaign where they agree to bestow this honor to a special student, but this year that was not the case, as I understand. We watched in amazement as many kids came up to tell us that Joshua is one of the nicest and friendliest kids at the school.
Autism brings with it the challenge of understanding proper social protocol and circumstances. We have worked very hard to help Joshua grasp these situations and act in an agreeable manner. We didn’t want him to grow up feeling isolated, lonely, or teased. But I simply must recognize that my son’s success also comes because of the kids he goes to school with. The teenagers that go to Tooele High possess compassion, charity and wisdom beyond their years. They are students of fine character and acceptance of all, no matter what their issues or disabilities.
I also understand that these kids didn’t come to be this way on their own accord. They were taught these traits by loving parents who trained them how to see beyond boundaries. This “spirit of love” finds it roots in many generations of good people. They say “It takes a village to raise a child.” So I say, “Tooele, what a wonderful village you are!” I count it one of my greatest blessings to be part of this magnificent city.