An autistic Tennessee teenager left his high school prom in tears because his date — his sister — was too old to attend the event, WSMV in Nashville is reporting.
Jayce Whisenhunt has autism, but he didn’t want his disability to stand in the way of his enjoying every American teenager’s rite of passage — his senior prom. As a date, he took his best friend: his 24-year-old sister, Jessica Helling.
Jessica Helling, his sister, said, “Tears of joy filled my eyes because I was so honored for him to ask me.” https://t.co/taDxxb2iiR
— Jim Brown (@Menorahblog) May 9, 2016
Jayce said he and Jessica had been having dance parties for several years, and he was excited for the chance to show off his slick dance moves.
Unfortunately, when the two showed up at Jayce’s prom, school officials had a different view of the couple’s “date.” Jessica explained the issue.
“As soon as I said my age, she said, ‘Oh no, no, no. You can’t come in here. Nobody over the age of 20 can come in here.’ I said, ‘But ma’am, he’s special needs. He’s my little brother. We’re siblings. It’s not like we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.’ ‘I can’t help that ma’am.'”
In fact, Montgomery County Schools have clear rules when it comes to prom attendees: no one aged 21 or over can attend, and attendees aged 19 and 20 must undergo a background check.
Jayce’s dad, Tone Wisenhunt, thinks the school district could have made an exception.
“Your kids have one prom and he didn’t even get to go to it. That’s what upsets me the most.”
In fact, Elise Shelton with Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools said that, had the school known about Jayce’s prom date in advance, they might have been open to making an exception. But on the spur-of-the-moment, they couldn’t bend the rules.
“If there had been a request for an exception to the rules, we certainly would have entertained that and worked with the family, but at no time was there a request.”
Fortunately, it looks like Jayce’s story is poised to have a happy ending: friends and family of the autistic teen set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to hold an alternative, all-ages prom for him and any other supporters who want to attend.
“Let’s work to make this right! We are going to throw Jayce and Jessica their own prom! We have a venue secured, but the cost is great. We are working to establish sponsors and volunteers, but anything you can donate will go toward covering the costs of the prom. Any extra funds will go to the family and toward the extreme costs of caring for this special young man!”
On the event’s Facebook page, offers of support are pouring in from around the country, now that the story has gone viral. One woman volunteered to bake cupcakes. Another has volunteered to take photos for free. Another has offered dance lessons.
Others supporters, unable to offer goods, offered money instead.
“Just left a large donation for you guys. This should never happen. My best wishes.”
Another well-wisher explained the difficulties her own autistic child has experienced.
“Really wish I lived closer. I have an autistic teen and this just melted my heart. He will have a much better time then at that school where he was bullied anyways. Now he will be surrounded by people who care about him. This will be the best prom ever. Wishing you all the best.”
As of this writing, the GoFundMe page to raise money for Jayce and Jessica’s alternative prom has raised $5,770 — well over its initial goal of $3,000.
[Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images]