Mikey and Autumn

Autumn Iskow and Mikey Boyce are good friends, and this Saturday they’ll make memories to last a lifetime. Cameras will be clicking as their parents record a special event — Washington High School’s prom being held at America’s Center Atrium in St. Louis.

The theme of the prom is “A Night in Vegas,” and all bets are on it being a night to remember. At a class meeting several weeks ago, the students selected their prom candidates. Among the eight girls chosen was Autumn, a 21-year-old brunette with Down’s syndrome. Her date for prom is Mikey, who is 18 and autistic.

In this day and age, when we too often hear about bullying, the senior class did themselves proud — that’s what Linda Iskow, Autumn’s mother, said.

It’s believed to be the first time that a mentally challenged student has been part of the prom court at Washington High School. But it’s not the first time Principal Frank Wood has been proud of the student body.

“I could give you a hundred good stories about these kids every day,” he said, the pride in his voice evident in the enthusiastic way he spoke about them, stressing that many of the students come from strong families. Wood explained that the nominations for prom generally go to “…solid kids, not necessarily those in the ‘in’ crowd.”

Wood said the student body thinks a great deal of Mikey and Autumn, and he’s sure the couple will be kept busy dancing all night with other WHS students.

Mikey and Autumn got to know one another in class and have been buddies for years. They “talk their own language,” Mary Ann Boyce, Mikey’s mother, said, demonstrating hand signals they use to communicate. Diagnosed at 2 1/2 with autism, Mikey has apraxia, trouble saying what he wants to say correctly and consistently.

Initially Mary Ann wasn’t sure that Mikey should go to the prom. She had concerns. Mikey doesn’t wear clothing with buttons and snaps, T-shirts and sweat pants being his usual dress attire. A tuxedo or suit would be impossible, Mary Ann thought, knowing even one button is an issue.

She took care of that problem. Mikey will wear a black T-shirt that looks like a tuxedo.

Food also was a worry. All Mikey ate when he was younger was french fries. As he’s gotten older, Mary Ann has been able to introduce other foods, but she knew Mikey wouldn’t eat anything served at the prom. To combat that problem, she’s packing his staple meal, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Lays chips and a cookie.

Then there was the length of the event and the loud music to consider. Mary Ann is hoping Mikey will adjust — he did recently at another dance and ended up having a terrific time, even though he entered the room with his hands over his ears.

Mikey and Autumn will have supervision on the Mid-American bus ride into the city, a paraprofessional from WHS who knows them both, and Autumn’s mother Linda. Shortly after the prom begins, Mary Ann and her husband Dan will be at America’s Center for the coronation.

Excitement will mount as the big moment approaches. Dressed in a deep scarlet strapless gown and matching cape, Autumn will take her place alongside the rest of the candidates. Minutes later the prom king and queen will be announced from votes cast earlier by the senior class.

Of course no one knows yet who that lucky couple will be — but there’s plenty of admiration being lavished on the senior class, WHS students who really made a difference in two young people’s lives.

“That class is fantastic,” Linda said, adding that six weeks ago neither Mikey nor Autumn were even going to prom. “And now Autumn is a candidate. It doesn’t matter if she wins — she’s already a winner. I’m still in awe of this class. They’re pretty amazing.”