'Promposal' opens new doors for McCann Tech student with autism


NORTH ADAMS — Brendan Mickle can be a social, adventurous young man, but sometimes he needs a little prompting.

At age 2 1/2, the Pittsfield resident was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He didn't talk much and wasn't interested in trying new things, be it food or activities.

But "we've never treated him differently," said his mother, Lori Mickle, "We try to get him to lead as normal life as possible."

Brendan has since grown up to be a self-aware, self-advocate, opening himself up to new experiences, one step at a time.

This year, thanks to the help of some teachers, friends and a classmate's creative "promposal," the Charles H. McCann Technical High School senior was prompted to say "yes" to attending his first high school dance this Saturday night, his senior prom.

A trend that's been sweeping the nation, the promposal takes the act of asking someone to prom to the next level.

Sometimes it's simple, like offering a person a nice card, flower or balloon with the dance invitation. Other times, it's elaborate, almost like a wedding proposal, with surprise stunts or songs or choreography. A social media search will yield tens of thousands of promposal videos and hundreds of thousands of articles and photos about ideas and actual promposal events.

Cheyanne Alcombright, a fellow McCann senior, said she worked up the idea to ask Brendan to prom after talking with Julia Mole, a mutual friend who has known Brendan since elementary school.

"I didn't want to make it a weird thing for him, for me to ask him out of the blue,"Cheyanne said. She and Brendan have known each other since middle school.

"Julia talked to him on the side to make sure he wasn't thrown off," she said.

Brendan told Mole that he would try the dance out.

Next, Cheyanne had to figure out how to formally ask him. She said her science teacher, Amber Caproni, suggested a promposal.

At first, Cheyanne said, she thought the idea of creating a promposal for Brendan was a little far-fetched. But then she worked up the confidence and the creativity by tapping into Brendan's biggest interest.

"I know he really loves roller coasters," she said, "so I made a big poster that said, 'Will you coast into prom with me?' "

Cheyanne's carpentry shop is near one of Brendan's computer-aided drafting classes. Last month, she made a plan and taped the poster in her shop window, facing out into the hallway, and framed it with balloons. She took two balloons and wrote "yes" on one, and "no" on the other, and stood on the corner in between classrooms, waiting for Mickle to come back from lunch.

"I was definitely nervous," she said.

Brendan came back and nearly walked by her when she popped the prom question. But in the end, he said "yes," and classmates and teachers made a little video of the moment and took a picture of the two, with Brendan holding up the pink "yes" balloon, so that friends and family members could see and remember the moment.

"I haven't experienced prom before and I thought maybe this would be my last chance to go, so I said yes," Brendan said. The event will be at the Williams Inn in Williamstown.

"It ended up being really cool but also really nerve-wracking not having the assurance that he was going to say 'yes,' " Cheyanne said. "I know how guys feel now [about asking a date]."

"I was surprised," Brendan said, "But I'm pretty pumped about it."

Since then, Brendan been experiencing subsequent firsts: thinking about dancing, getting fitted for a tuxedo, deciding whether he'll accede to his mother's request that he go to the event clean-shaven.

All the while, Brendan has also been preparing to see his high school journey to come to a close. He's gotten his first job, washing dishes and helping out at Bob's Country Kitchen in Lanesborough, and is working on his senior project about roller coaster designs.

Last week, he and Cheyanne also got to hang out during the senior class field trip to Six Flags New England. Brendan was in his glory, surrounded by roller coasters and the staff and students who have supported him along his journey.

"He's come a long way," Lori Mickle said of her son. "But in the past three to four years, Brendan's really tried to come out of his comfort zone on his own."

Mickle said that she and other parents with children with autism often worry about their kids having happy, healthy social lives, from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Research shows that young people with autism or other disabilities are often left out of social activities and can have limited friendship circles among peers without disabilities.

Lori Mickle said that when Brendan was younger, the staff at Lanesborough Elementary School held a schoolwide teach-in to help other kids and teachers understand what the symptoms of autism are, and how to be inclusive. The mother said she's fortunate that her son has a high level of independence and that there's an extensive network of support for Brendan.

"I actually do have great friends," Brendan said.

As for this Saturday night, he said he's looking forward to celebrating with those people, and his date says she's aiming to make sure it's a night to remember.

"Everybody knows Brendan and really loves Brendan. He lights up the room and makes everybody laugh," Cheyanne said. "I think it's going to be amazing for him to go out with a big bang, and we're going to make this night and his year the best that we can."

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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