She was diagnosed with Aspeger’s at age 15. She had troubles making friends in high school. She had dreams, but was nervous about pursuing them.
She was beautiful, and she had a passion for modeling.
So, when an opportunity to apply for a spot on America’s Next Top Model came up: she was reluctant. But she had friends and family who believed in her, and she took the risk.
Her choice did not come without pain. Early on in the show, her fellow contestants made fun of her social awkwardness, reducing her to tears many times. Yet, she was very gracious when interviewed about those moments, even though she could have bitterly denounced those bullies.
As a result of her willingness to be comfortable with discomfort, Heather Kuzmich vaulted into successful roles in the modeling world. She has an extensive modeling portfolio. Furthermore, she paved the way for the heightened awareness and sensitivity to autism spectrum conditions in a way that we take for granted today.
Alex Plank of Wrong Planet interviewed Heather a few years ago. Heather shared experiences and wisdom from her own journey that I’d like to pass along to you.
Be Willing To Work On Your Weaknesses
Alex: OK. What have you struggled with the most in your life?
Heather: Being able to approach. Going into interviews and not knowing someone and like having to trust my confidence that I’ll get the job and hope that I won’t mess up because I do actually say umm and err and chop a lot and have to think things through and that really has hindered me. It isn’t the best. I don’t have the best speech skills.
Show Up For Your Life
I borrow this phrase, show up for your life, from Michelle Garcia Winner. In life, we have to choose to be victors rather than victims. Listen to Heather’s advice to individuals on the autism spectrum. It’s timely for people all over this planet, whether with Asperger’s or not:
Alex: What do you recommend for young people with Asperger’s Syndrome who want to overcome the social problems that come along with this condition? Do you have any advice for them?
Heather: Umm… Yeah. Make sure that you keep don’t keep a losing mentality. It’s very easy for those with Asperger’s to be… or see something and be really like stuck on it. Either it’s going to go good or go bad. and be really stuck on it. and just not think that you know, its going to be positive no matter what. Another thing is it really does help to practice your speech in front of a mirror and to you know. It also helps to really force yourself to put yourself in social situations. Because shunning away… I mean, I know it’s hard to get into social situations but shunning is just not going to help. It’s better to just bite the bullet and go through it than not doing it at all and not changing.
Recognize and Work With the Positive Traits of the Autism Spectrum
Alex: How does Asperger’s affect your creative process as an artist and a model?
Heather: Well in a sense it didn’t really effect it that much but it did make me; it does make you kinda concentrate and, you know, focus on one thing. And I have a tendency of being very nit-picky and very, you know, perfectionist when it comes to my art. So I have a tendency… It takes a long time for me to do any drawings or anything like that. Other than that, like, the creative process… it doesn’t really effect it too much.
Persistence In Taking Risks Pays Off
A few weeks ago I heard Michelle Garcia Winner and Dr. Pam Crooke speak about helping individuals on the autism spectrum make the transition from high school to young adulthood and beyond. The #1 character trait they cite that predicts an individual’s success in moving forward is a commitment to persistence in practicing that which is uncomfortable.
Heather could have never applied for America’s Top Model. Or she could have quit at the first feeling of discomfort when her peers made fun of her. Or when she stuttered on interviews on live TV. But she didn’t! She has hung in there. And here are the rewards, as quoted below:
Alex: How has being on the show affected your life?
Heather: Well I’ve gotten a fan-base which still puzzles me but it is quite nice. What else? It has showed me that I can, like, I can do what I want and that I can overcome certain things about my Asperger’s.
Acknowledge Your Strengths.
Acknowledge Your Weaknesses.
Take Responsibility For Your Life: Work Hard To Develop Your Strengths.
And Work Hard To Grow In Your Areas of Weakness: Learn To Be Comfortable With Discomfort.
And…Reap the Rewards!
photo credit: KHaskins23