A model enjoys being part of the fashion show. This year’s “Johns Creek Fashion Speaks on the Creek: A Fashion Show for the Exceptionals” will be held Sunday, Sept. 29. (Photo: STARR PETRONELLA)

Fashion show empowers people with special needs  

The first year Kevin DeSousa walked the runway at a fashion show, his dad was on pins and needles.

He didn’t know what to expect from his son, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

The bright lights. The large audience. The stage that must have seemed the size of a football stadium.

He came out on stage, eyes as big as saucers, walking like the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Now, the 23-year-old DeSousa is ripping the runaway.

He’s one of 55 models who will strut their stuff in the “Johns Creek Fashion Speaks on the Creek: A Fashion Show for the Exceptionals” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29. 

“What the fashion show has done is pushed him outside of his bounds,” said his father, Thomas DeSousa, who has watched his son gain confidence and develop a “feeling of normalcy.” 

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The fashion show, which is in its fourth year, will be held at Johns Creek High School, 5575 State Bridge Rd. It will include a raffle, silent auction and refreshments. Doors open at 3:15 p.m.

The models will be escorted by members of the Johns Creek Police Department and “Star Wars” characters.

The show is the brainchild of Linda Hickey, president of the Jonny & Xena's Spread the Words Foundation , who named the nonprofit after her son, Jonny, and his beloved pet dog, Xena.

Xena, who had been severely abused, became the companion dog for Jonny, who was diagnosed with autism. 

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The foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of people living with autism and other developmental or physical disabilities and to promote understanding and awareness. In addition to the fashion show, the foundation holds other events, including a prom.

“Family and friends know how special they are,” she said. “I just want to let the world know how incredible these individuals are and how much they really have to offer.”

The youngest model is 5 years old. One year, the oldest was 89.

Hickey has noticed a few changes over the last year. Early on, most of the models were female. Now, most are males.

“I believe this empowers them,” Hickey said.

Adds Thomas DeSousa: “People say it takes a village and they are our village, really.”

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