Tyra and Twiggy and… autism?

Never in a million years did I think I would ever read the names Tyra Banks, Twiggy, Enrique Iglesias and autism in the same article. But then I read a recent New York Times piece that focused on a 21-year-old art student from Valparaiso, Indiana named Heather Kuzmich.

Kuzmich has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Like so many others who share her diagnosis, she had difficulty throughout her life navigating the social world. Sounds like a pretty standard story so far, but here’s the catch…

Kuzmich was a recent contestant on the reality show America’s Next Top Model. On the show, 13 women compete for management and representation by a major talent agency, a $100,000 cosmetics contract, and a cover and spread in a fashion magazine. When asked what motivated her to audition for the show, Kuzmich responded “I was at a point in my life where I was thinking either Asperger’s was going to define me, or I was going to be able to work around it.”

Work around it she has. Not only was Kuzmich a finalist in the competition — viewers voted her “Cover Girl of the Week” for a record nine consecutive weeks. The competitive nature of the show inevitably led to challenging moments — living in a house with 12 roommates would be challenging for many of us! The struggles and triumphs of being a young woman living with a disorder were played out in front of a national television audience on a weekly basis — Kuzmich handled herself with grace and style throughout.   

“The Future of Fashion” is the catch phrase from this season of America’s Next Top Model. We can only hope that the future of all individuals with autism, and similar disabilities, has as bright a future as what lies ahead for Heather Kuzmich.

Read Matt McAlear’s biography.


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  1. Patricia Wright Says:

    Christy, your daughter is fortunate that you continue to advocate for her to receive appropirate services and supports. From your description of Steph it appears that she needs support in social skill development. If Steph is receiving speech therapy services at school she most likely has an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). At IEP meetings it is very appropriate for you to ask for Steph to receive help in developing social skills. Steph might partipate in a small group where she would learn how to interact with other girls her age. A teacher, speech therapist or other school professional will assist Steph in learning skills that will help her become a better friend. Steph can receive these services even if she does not have a label of autism at school. As long as she is enrolled in special education and the IEP team determines that Steph needs social skill instruction to benefit from her education Steph could qualify for this support.

    An excellent resource in learning how to advocate for additional services and supports is Wrights Law. Pam and Pete Wright (http://www.wrightslaw.com/) have a lot of information to support parents in their advocacy work.

  2. christy Says:

    I have a daughter age 12.We was told she has autism at the age of 4.The schools tells me my girl needs speech and is still doing kindergarten work in 6th grade.But they dont see her having autism.I took her back to a autism doctor they did test this year and said yes she has a autism.What do I do to get her more help.She gets a friend then they see she is different then they dont come around no more.Steph my girl cant come up with things to play what or talk about with a friend.She always needs my help to get her to talk or meet new friends. I cant get family friends or school to see that is dose have autism.If you look at her you cant tell. Steph loves heather on the Tyra show.Steph keeps saying I hope she dont stop trying.If someone can help me please email me chattymother29@yahoo.com

  3. Patricia Wright Says:

    Matt – thanks for pointing out a success story regarding a young woman with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. With the diagnostic rate being so heavily weighted towards males stories about women are few and far between. Kuzmich’s media rich career path of modeling and the fashion industry will certianly increase awareness and understanding that individuals with autism can and do lead meaningful lives!

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