All Around Special Night
Justin Bennett, 17, of Holly, got his tux from Men’s Warehouse for his junior prom, like anyone else. His friends met up with him at his home, and they gathered for photos with their parents, like anyone else.
He chatted with his date, Kelly Ray, a friend from Holly High School (HHS), and ate dinner before doing the “Cupid Shuffle” with all the juniors and seniors on the dance floor. Justin is a normal high school student, but he was the only high-functioning autistic student there.
There are many at the high school like him, but he was alone in handling an intense social event like prom.
Bennett has Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is toward the lighter spectrum that allows him to function normally, and socialize with a little help.
That help comes in the form of the LIFTT program, which stands for Learning Independence For Today and Tomorrow. Bennett is in that class for two hours of the day, and the rest of the time he attends class with the rest of the students. In fourth hour, Ray, 16, mentors him.
Some of the students like Bennett are given one-on-one mentoring. During lunch hour, they also have “lunch buddies,” where mentors eat lunch with them, assist with interacting with other students and help with difficulties.
“Everyday life skills, that our regular ed kids should be able to do,” said teacher Terri Chambers. LIFTT program helps with other activities like learning to fly a kite, and social skills like ordering in a restaurant.
Ray is the whole reason Bennett is at prom; she sought sponsorship for him for the $59 ticket, and Men’s Warehouse for the suit. “I feel like I’m more of a man of business than going to a prom,” said Bennett, of his sharp red and black tux.
“I’m always just so impressed with her caring toward others – her wanting to do this, I was just blown away,” said Chambers, who serves as the junior class adviser. Ray is one of the class council members and handled the arrangements to get Bennett to prom.
After dinner on Saturday night, Bennett felt pretty good, but was a little nervous. “When you get used to it, it feels pretty normal,” he said. “It’s looking a little promising.” The food was internationally themed, and Ray had a little bit of everything, and Bennett focused on Mexican food.
Bennett was naturally apprehensive about going at first. His parents were especially happy he decided to go. “He’s got hyper-focus,” said his father Tim Bennett. “He wouldn’t have went to the prom himself.” His dad said the last time he was at such a large social event, it was a dance at Sherman Middle School. “He can be over-stimulated sometimes, he knows to leave and gather himself up by himself,” he said.
At prom, Bennett said, “Count me out of dancing,” as he and his group of friends ventured toward the booming of the dance floor. It was too loud for him at first, so Ray helped him find a pair of ear-buds. With the extra ear protection, Bennett tried it again, and was coaxed to try dancing with his friends.
“I was surprised,” said Ray, who thought it would take him longer to warm up. “He was doing good, though.” He even handled “Cupid Shuffle,” which ended in high-fives from his group.
Though Bennett maintains that his favorite part of his first big dance was the food, he said he will always remember his friends who supported his prom experience. “I honestly thought that this prom thing might not go so well for me,” he said. “What happened Saturday, it was great, I give it an eight out of 10.”
Thanks for taking time to read about Kelly and Justin’s big night. Thank you also for all of your love, support and prayers for this season’s summer camps.
Much love, Brett