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For most of the years of her life, Samantha Rosa, 18, was focused on other things. Then, one day, she saw a woman wearing all kinds of crazy clothes—a monster black crown, claw-shaped shoes, a polar bear cape. And suddenly, a whole new world opened up: Fashion.

Here's how Samantha, who was diagnosed with autism, entered that world:

“I was one of those bland people who wears anything, just a normal shirt and pants and that’s it. And my cousin showed me this singer named Lady Gaga and I did, like, ‘Who is she?!’

I was so inspired by the clothing she has, like something unique that I’d never seen before. And what got me so attracted by her is her way of style, and she didn’t care what people think about her.

I tried dressing as her. I tried dressing up with different clothing that no one wears. I dyed my bangs a lot. I dyed the end of my hair. Purple here, pink there, aquamarine, royal blue here. A lot of people gave me looks.

Some people ask me why I do it, and I said, ‘I don’t know, I just like doing something different.’

The first time I went to (a Massachusetts College of Art and Design program for youth), they didn’t accepted me because they wanted a student who doesn’t have an IEP (an Individualized Education Plan, for special needs students). They sent me a letter saying I got in, and then they gave me another letter and said I can’t go in. And once they did that, I was shocked, I was sad, and I was disappointed. I felt like my dreams are shattered, because I wanted to go.

My mom didn’t take the ‘No’ letter. She did, like, ‘We’re going there, and we’re going to get your dreams and your goals there either way.’

And, what happened, we were at the auditorium. I tell my mom, ‘We got to go, we got to leave,’ but my mom said, ‘No, no, no, we’re staying, and we don’t care what they think.’

They called everyone’s name except me, so I was a little disappointed and sad. (Then) my mom stood up with the letter, saying, ‘Here she is!’

I was… I was scared. I was telling my mom to go and sit down—they didn’t call me, that’s fine, that’s OK, there’s other ways.

They’re like, ‘Are you sure she’s part of this program?’

My mom said, ‘Yes, she is. She got the letter, so she’s going in the program.’

So I ended up being in the group that I wanted to be in. And after that, actually, I was scared (that the person in charge) didn’t like me nor my mom because (of) my mom’s determination and the couldn’t take the ‘no’ for an answer. But after that, she got used to it. And some staffs were really nice.

I signed up to do fashion design. We went to this store, it’s like a thrift store, and I took a dress that’s like a (size) zero, and I found a red with black polka-dots—almost like a lady bug—and found a belt. I saw this top hat and I did, like, ‘I need the top hat!’

I didn’t have enough money, so what happened, I asked my mom: ‘Ma, I need to go back to the store so I can get the top hat.’ I went with my cousin, and we bought the top hat, and then after that, my mom said, ‘You got everything settled?’

I said, ‘Yes.’

I designed the dress first, I made it my size, and I fixed the belt—I changed the buckle into a stretchy fabric—and for the coat, I made it a little larger and a little longer as well. And I made little gloves to match with the coat. And for the hat, I put, like, a ribbon around it—almost looked like the Mad Hatter theme, but it’s in my style, I feel like it’s kind of different.

I get some up and downs about it, my doubts of wearing or not wearing it, but I did wear it in front of my parents and my other cousins. They did like it so, yeah. I got a little confidence about wearing it.

The kids (in the program), when I first met them, let’s just say some of them were kind of… judging me about my appearance, about my hair was dyed, and wearing different clothes. They were just wearing normal clothes and stuff—and when they looked at me, they looked like I had two heads.

So… what happened, I didn’t get much of friends at first. I sat by myself. I tried talking to them and they never talked to me. And that’s when I got a little depressed, because I wanted to show them I’m a person at heart, very nice and not rude or anything.

Looking at appearance, you can’t judge books by its cover. So they did the book-by-cover card, and after that, I told my mom about it. She told the staffs. They talk about it and everything went well.

Yeah, I made a lot of friends. When I started talking to them, and they started talking to me, and they got instantly used to my appearance and everything, and when they saw the artwork I was doing, they were quite surprised.

I’m not gonna lie, there is some parts (in the program) that I got a little frustrated and a little pressured on, and sometimes I had doubts about myself, about doing it. But when I got support (from my mother and my father and my cousins), I instantly want to keep going, do something that I always wanted to do.

I have hopes of becoming a fashion designer. And for that, I want to do it not for myself, but for people who has plus sizes. I want them to feel happy who they are and be confident what they wanted to be. Either way, if I ever become a professor or a teacher from the university or stuff, I’ll try to give (students) the path that they always wanted, and need, and if they (don’t) have the confidence, I will support them either way, and I will help them if they have struggles with it.”

In the photograph above, Samantha is wearing a bracelet and other jewelry she made.

She was interviewed by story ambassador Carmen Pola, her grand-aunt, who has always admired her. Her interview was transcribed by Northeastern University student Anton Repnikov. It was then edited for length, clarity and flow by Cara Solomon, founder of Everyday Boston, who also wrote the intro.

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