Written by Christopher Gavin Thursday, 20 June 2013 00:00
As the warmer weather sets in, the beginning of prom season takes off at the beginning of June like clockwork every year. For the autistic students at the Brookville Center for Children’s Services however, the May 31 prom was a first this year.
The residence program administered by the center educates kids with autism up until age 21, according to Beth Hudson, the senior director at the school. There are 25 students between the Lido Beach and Glen Cove houses, Amy Keegan, assistant director of community resources at the center, said.
The gala or prom event was held at the center’s Brookville mansion as a way to celebrate the graduation for those who are graduating into the adult program next week and was attended by 28 students, Keegan said.
“We wanted them to have the same experience a typical student would have,” Hudson said in a phone interview.
Hudson explained the autistic residence opened in 2009, which allowed for students to be closer to their families. Before that, they had to study out of New York state to receive the same education, she said. Since then, there has not been a large enough group of graduating students to hold a prom, Hudson said.
“The kids are all on the autism spectrum which means that they have a wide variety of abilities and many of them are very bright but because they couldn’t be served in their home [school] district, they didn’t have the usual social connections that most kids do,” Hudson said.
From this, the idea of a prom was born, but not without the styling help and expertise of MetroLook, she said.
The mobile beauty salon is made up of Tamara or “T” Cooper and Dana Arcidy, who base MetroLook out of Manhattan’s upper west side, Cooper said. Cooper’s niece works at the center, she said.
“She told me that these kids were pretty much aging out of the program, they’re giving them a little gala to say goodbye to them, similar to a prom situation, and would I be interested in providing hair and make-up,” Cooper said in a phone interview. “So of course I said yes. How can you say no to something like that?”
Cooper said MetroLook had never done anything exactly like this before although the two stylists gave makeovers to victims of Hurricane Sandy last fall. The duo usually does work for weddings and companies like VH1 and Vogue, she said.
The different set of clientele however did not seem to make a difference though, Hudson said.
“They just loved the whole experience,” Hudson said. “Some [of the boys] asked for a Justin Bieber haircut. It was probably the first time most of the girls wore serious make-up…They felt really important that night.”
Cooper said it was important for her too.
“I [had] no previous exposure to autistic children before so for me it was really special and also eye opening because I had no clue how severe autism could be,” she said later mentioning her favorite moment of the makeover process when one student was ecstatic about her new look.
Cooper also said that she was able to give gift bags to the girls thanks to Ricky’s NYC, a beauty supplier, who sponsored her. Bow ties were made for the boys by TIEEBOWS, she said.
Hudson said that students entering the adult program will learn how to work different jobs and skills similar to those in the workforce. She also said the most beneficial part of the whole experience was being able to show the kids that their lives are not that different than other people their age.
“Sometimes [leaving the program] is a very stressful period of their life because it’s the first time many of them really had to come to grips with the fact that their life is not going to take the same track as their typical peers,” she said. “This was one way of showing that their lives can be rich and full and can look a lot like their brother’s and sister’s do.”