My daughter Katie has appeared in the pages of this blog before.

Today she said something I don't believe I've ever heard her say, and something that every girl deserves to feel. "Daddy, I feel just like a princess." The words and smile told me so much more. That even though she is a princess to me always, daily she feels like many other things; a college student, a singer, an actress, a sister, a daughter, and yep, and autistic kid. In fact, her autism swirls in and out of every aspect of her life, as she challenges herself to fit in and stand out at the same time.

Autism is like a drop of oil in a glass of water. Sometimes you can see it floating on the surface, other times it only shows up when the right light shines on it. And other times, if it's mixed in just right--you don't even notice it at all. Inside Katie it's always there-- so I guess my dumb description doesn't matter.

You wake up--it's there. She's told me she would rather not be Autistic. That kid. But they persist, those subtle reminders throughout the day that you just don't quite function the same way as everybody else. Maybe someone is in the seat you usually sit in. Other people don't have to spend 20 minutes wondering why 'my' seat isn't empty like it was yesterday. Pacing angrily, almost to the point of distraction, all the while the innocent seat-stealer just thought maybe they'd like to sit closer to the door today. It's got to feel like when you have a rock in your shoe, except the rock for Katie is a thought, and instead of her shoe, it's in her head. And. It. Just. Won't. Fit.

Autism is like an angry shadow. You eat alone in the cafeteria, but you're so focused what kind of pasta is on the buffet you don't notice the stares, the eye-rolls and whispering. It's like a built-in safety harness: It's not near comfortable--but the upside is you don't die. Most people have a phobia of eating alone. For kids like Katie, it's not phobia, it's fact. But as long as there's goldfish crackers around, all's well in cafeteria-land.

Routine is king when you're on the spectrum. Katie's routine is both her savior and her mortal enemy. Keeping to her schedule keeps her calm, and focused. Veering off course, even for a minute, will cost her somewhere down the line. Maybe an outburst during a class, maybe a tantrum in a restaurant, perhaps something darker while she's alone in her head.

So today is a nice departure from Katie's routine. A Night To Shine is taking place across the country, including at the Waterfront Convention Center, one of two such events in the Quad Cities. A Night To Shine is a Tim Tebow Foundation sponsored event, bringing kids who live in the darkness of special needs into the spotlight at a Prom event designed to carefully celebrate all of their goofy differences in a place where they can escape the stares of accidentally ignorant, or just uncomfortable, bystanders. Everyone volunteering at these events has put these attendees on a pedestal, even for just a night. As the pictures that accompany this article show--Katie is as normal as she can be tonight. She's loving it. And so is her dad.

As for feeling like a Princess--I owe that to Hope's Bridal. Katie was a late joiner to tonight's party. While looking for a dress, they stopped into Hope's Bridal to discover that they had a special section of dresses just for these Prom attendees. Beautiful dresses. The staff there treated Katie like a normal kid getting a dress for prom. Which is to say they spoiled her. That doesn't happen to her everyday. Then after trying on I-don't-know-how-many dresses, she picked this perfect number. And Hope's said--"It's free." Just so you understand, Hope's Bridal made my daughter feel like a princess, and a normal, run-o'-the-mill princess mind you. And didn't charge her a thing. I guess they offered these dresses to participants at reduced cost, or no cost. And I didn't even know it. If you could High Five a bridal shop...

It was a fun day, watching Katie get her hair done, her makeup done, and put on this Princess Uniform that, at least for one night--will let her feel like the Belle of the ball, while her Autism takes a back seat. I feel like a Prince.

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