Next Friday, Max will get dressed up in a button-down shirt and khakis. Dave will drop him off at Night to Shine, an annual prom for teens with disabilities sponsored by the Tim Tebow foundation. Max will meet up with his designated buddy for the evening. Then Dave will take off and Max will have the time of his life—he'll walk a red carpet, dance, eat dinner, take a limo ride, do karaoke if he wants to.
The event is in its sixth year, with 115,000-plus guests in 34 countries expected to attend and 215,000-plus volunteers hosting. There are also assorted indie proms just for teens with disabilities happening around the country, like the Ignite the Light prom that happened last Saturday night in Johns Creek, Georgia (above, a photo of last year's); the A Night To Remember prom on April 20 in San Diego for young adults ages 15 to 22; and Shine Prom in Alabama, coming up on May 24 in Meridian, Idaho.
I think it is important for proms at high schools to be inclusive of students with disabilities—inclusion should extend into all aspects of school. That's why I used to think that proms for kids with special needs unnecessarily segregated them. Part of my feelings were tied up in the fact that Max didn't have friends without disabilities; his social life has always consisted of friends he had at school and ones he mingles with at events, and I felt that meant it was lacking. Max is a really social kid—shouldn't he have friends of all kinds? Why can't typical kids see how awesome he is? I'd think.
But I've come to accept reality: Friendship with so-called typical peers was hard for Max because of their very different interests. I've had to learn to stop projecting my idea of what a friendship circle "should" look like and accept Max's idea of contentment. Which is, basically, a key part of what parenting your child with special needs is all about.
Proms for teens with disabilities let them revel in their friendships and romances on a special, festive night. They enable teens who need an extra hand to get one from a peer or adult partner, and be independent from their parents. Cause what teen wants to party with their parents?! While I hope that teens with disabilities feel as welcomed at their school proms as any teen, it's awesome for them to have options. Proms for teens with special needs don't segregate them; they celebrate them and their friendships.
Max is perfectly content with his social life. Last Friday night, I dropped him off at his school's pajama dance. I watched as he greeted his friends with high-fives and mingled before he saw me watching and, pointing to the door, mouthed "OUT!" As this mom spy sheepishly trudged out, I noticed Max huddling with a few friends, discussing something. I was curious to know what but, really, it was none of my business.