By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — What a perfect surprise for two “almost teens:” A day trip to Bellingham and an Old Navy shopping spree.
A video camera recorded the scene. Two 12-year-olds, Sky Amethyst Capes and Makena Welsh, walked with bouncy confidence from their dressing rooms. They smiled, waved and executed model-like 360-degree turns to show off their new outfits.
Near the end of the 13-minute video that documents their trip, Sky, perhaps by degree slightly more of a stage ham, shows off an orange polka dot dress she’s wearing.
“Is this cute or what?” she asks. As she turns to walk away from the camera, she gives a casual behind-the-back wave with her left hand and signs off with: “See ya boys!”
The video was made to help Sky and Makena, both sixth-graders at Cedar Way Elementary School, gain confidence and prepare for what can be the turbulent transition to middle school.
Both have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Children with this type of autism typically have average to above average intellect, but can have difficulty with social interactions.
“There’s been times when my friends who have kids Sky’s age … will exclude her from activities,” said Coral Blankinship, Sky’s mom. “She won’t be invited. They don’t understand her.”
Makena’s mom, Shaela Welsh, said that although her daughter has difficulties with reading and writing, she’s in the top 5 percent of her class in math.
“Socially, they get frustrated,” she said. “They’re the ones that never get paired up. Asperger’s kids are bullied? It’s a very stressful thing.”
Both moms said they worry about their daughters’ upcoming introduction to middle school.
Middle school “was very tough on me and I didn’t have autism,” Blankinship said.
“Focusing on their transition to middle school, for typical kids it’s huge, for Asperger’s kids it’s traumatizing,” Welsh said.
The trip to Bellingham, which also included facials and salon haircuts, was documented by an online, Seattle-based production company, Talk It Up TV. It’s one of a series of mini-documentaries produced by the company on topics as varied as human trafficking, a surprise birthday party for a homeless child and children recovering from burns.
Anny Havland, the show’s host for the nonprofit show, said she wanted to work on video projects that are “an outlet for everyday life experiences and random acts of kindness.”
The segment on Sky and Makena is called “Building Confidence With Autism.”
The project evolved from a volunteer at Cedar Way who worked with both the girls. The woman, Lil Labourr, works in a program called Pet Partners to assist children diagnosed with autism. She uses her dog, Peanut, as a social icebreaker to discuss subjects such as hygiene, clothing and healthy eating.
Labourr also knew Havland and asked her to speak to the Sky and Makena’s class. From there, Havland decided she wanted to do the online show on autism.
“They’re bright, smart, girls,” Labourr said. “They have sensory issues sometimes where they put clothing on and it doesn’t feel right. Choosing clothing that’s fashionable might be harder for them.”
For Makena, it meant she hadn’t worn jeans since the first grade, her mom said.
Their next stop was at the Toni &Guy salon for haircuts and some spa touches.
“They showed her how to use products on her face,” Welsh said. “She has done it every day since then. I owe these people!”
Sky said her favorite part of participating in the video was getting her hair done.
“I loved being in the video,” she said. “I thought it was awesome.”
She said she hopes that people who watch the video will come to understand “that autism people are really good people and?they just have trouble with communication. They need to understand the disability and get to know them more and not just see them as an autistic person.”
Her mom said that after her trip to Bellingham, Sky has paid more attention to color coordinating her clothes and she’s doing a better job of getting herself ready in the morning. “It’s had a positive impact on her.”
Marlaina Capes, Sky’s stepmom, said a recent text from Sky showed another, unexpected effect, a big social step forward.
“I’m going to go to a skating party with my mainstream class!” it began. “Some of the girls?asked me to hang out with them at the party. I can’t wait!”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.