Dad escorts daughter living with autism to senior prom: 'I want her to have this experience'

Thomas Perl poses with his daughter Tori at the Batavia High School prom. (Credit: Thomas Perl)
Thomas Perl poses with his daughter Tori at the Batavia High School prom. (Credit: Thomas Perl)

After his daughter, who lives with an autism spectrum disorder, couldn’t find an escort in time to her senior prom, dad Thomas Perl decided to step in.

“This is the big one before she graduates,” Thomas tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I just wanted her to go and experience this with someone that she will go have a good time with.”

Thomas never went to his senior prom in high school, but says he wouldn’t change a thing. Instead, he got to escort his 17-year-old daughter Tori to what will be the first senior prom for both of them.

Tori, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the seventh grade, is currently a senior at Batavia High School in New York.

“She’d rather play with video games and play with dolls than look at boys, which I’m totally okay with,” Thomas, 50, jokes.

While the Perls love their daughter’s youthful energy, living with autism has made it difficult for Tori to maintain the friendships she made in elementary school. Thomas says Tori is much like “a 13-year-old living in a 17-year-old girl’s body.”

“Tori doesn’t have a huge circle of friends. A lot of her friends in grade school bypassed her a long time ago and Tori wanted to stay who she was,” says Thomas.

According to Thomas, the Batavia High School prom hadn’t even crossed his and his wife Anna’s mind until a family friend called saying they had an extra dress in case Tori wanted to go. From that moment on, Thomas knew it was an experience he wanted for his daughter.

The dad recalled, “I wanted Tori to go because I want her to have memories of it since I never went to mine.”

Anna asked three different boys to escort her daughter to prom; two said no. The Perls were waiting on pins and needles for the last boy’s response. Then, Thomas suggested the last — and best man — to do the honors of taking Tori to prom: himself.

“I said, ‘If they let me, I have my own tuxedo, why don’t I escort her to the prom? We’ll know she get there safe and she loves spending time with me,’” Thomas tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Tori Perl, bought hot pink roses from her favorite local flower shop to match her prom dress. (Credit: Thomas Perl)
Tori Perl got hot pink roses from her favorite local flower shop to match her prom dress. (Credit: Thomas Perl)

Tori was ecstatic when she heard the news. Although dates over 20 aren’t usually allowed at the Batavia High School Prom, the school administration made an exception when Tori asked an assistant principal herself if she could take her dad to prom.

The day of the prom, on June 15, Thomas went above and beyond, accompanying his daughter for all the prom preparations. “I was there watching her get her hair done. I love doing that,” Thomas says. “When we went to her favorite flower shop, we got a picture of Tori holding the corsage.”

Thomas “dusted” off his 10-year-old tuxedo and had his wife create a makeshift pink pocket square out of copy paper to match his daughter’s dress, and then the father-daughter duo were off to their first-ever senior prom.

“We got some looks when we walked in. Everyone is like, ‘Who is the old guy walking in with Tori?’” Thomas recalls. “But, these kids walked up to Tori and said she looked beautiful.”

Together, the father-daughter duo jammed to Tori’s anthem, “Confident” by Demi Lovato, snacked on Munchies at the food table and took pictures at the photo booth. And even though Tori didn’t win prom queen, the senior crowned herself anyway. “She grabbed a small princess crown on the table and put it on her head,” Thomas recalls.

And after it was all over, the pair ended their night on a sweet note — with ice cream at Denny’s.

While Thomas knows that it will be a night they they will never forget, he hopes their story can be an inspiration for other people.

“I’m sure I’m not the first one who’s done something like this, but I’m certainly not the last,” Thomas says. “I hope stories like this can change the world. There’s nothing that can stop these kids from doing what they want to do.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Sweet stranger helps dateless teen before prom: 'Cinderella shouldn't have to pump her own gas'

Superintendent apologizes for ‘regrettable occurrence’ after special needs students were forced to leave prom early

Great-grandmother named prom queen at age 97 — decades after missing her own dance because of the Great Depression

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