Friday night, Meredith Cuddihy will be on the lawn at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Springs, all dressed up, smiling for the cameras with her friends.
But don’t look for her inside after the other high-schoolers have paraded into the building for the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School prom.
Meredith has another engagement.
The high school senior has opted to skip the prom so she can escort her 16-year-old brother, Chris, to his spring dance, hosted by Wildwood Programs in Schenectady.
Meredith has attended two proms in the past, so she said it wasn’t that big of a deal to miss her senior one in exchange for a night out with her little brother, who has autism.
“I figured this would be nicer, to take him instead,” she said.
Due to his condition, Chris’ social interactions are limited.
“He marches to a different drummer,” his mom, Nancy Cuddihy, said. “What fascinates him is not the usual teenage fare. He does enjoy going out hiking and climbing trees and climbing mountains, but he doesn’t seem to have the interest in having a best friend and interacting the way that other kids interact.”
Chris is nonverbal, can get overwhelmed in certain situations and often likes to keep to himself. He never goes anywhere without a parent or a trained professional, but despite that, Meredith tries very hard to include him as one of the gang.
She even convinced her parents to let her take him to the Young Life youth group she attends with her friends.
“The first night, he only lasted a few minutes, and it was weeks before he lasted the whole night and more weeks before I stopped waiting out in the parking lot,” recalled Paul Cuddihy, Meredith and Chris’ father.
Now Chris looks forward to the outing, where he often joins the other kids in an informal game of basketball.
“Everybody just really likes having Chris there,” Meredith said. “Having an autistic person in that kind of community is kind of different, so they learn about him and Chris learns about everyone else.”
Although Chris has difficulty communicating, he has a way of teaching others, his mother said.
“He makes you stop and see things that you normally wouldn’t see — colors or motions,” she explained. “He’s very gentle and he makes you see the fun in things, instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day grind.”
Chris also helps his older sister out with pizza sales at high school basketball games and sometimes accompanies her on short outings. Meredith’s got him excited about going to summer camp, too.
“She’s been encouraging Nancy and I to allow him to participate in more ‘typical people’ activities,” Paul Cuddihy said.
Meredith, who will attend Le Moyne College in the fall, is an outgoing, entrepreneurial girl, her father said.
“When she gets excited about something, she’s all in. She just comes up with these ideas and then there’s no stopping her,” he said. “When people say, ‘Wow, you’ve done such a great job raising Meredith,’ I say, ‘You don’t really raise Meredith. Basically you just support her because she has all these great ideas.’ ”
Chris isn’t the type of guy who usually gets dressed up, but Friday he’ll make an exception in honor of the dance.
“He’s actually famous for destroying clothes,” his dad joked.
Meredith said she’s hoping that taking part in the dance will encourage Chris to interact with others, and she’s looking forward to seeing her brother in his fancy attire.
Meredith and Chris’ 13-year-old sister, Maggie, has plans to join her siblings at the event.
“It’s wonderful to have them involved with him and taking him out,” Nancy Cuddihy said.