She is a lover of dance, but for 8-year-old Jadyn Waiser, of Bridgewater, she took that to a whole new level Saturday when she performed with the New York Jets Junior Flight Crew during the halftime performance of a Jets preseason game against the New York Giants Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
And for Waiser, she was able and excited to perform despite her autism, and was the first child with special needs to take part in the performance.
Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Waiser didn’t start talking until age 5, and didn’t have much communication abilities until the last year or so.
“She has some language now, and, as with any child with autism, she struggles with the social aspect,” said Michelle Waiser, Jadyn’s mother. “And a lot of the academic challenges severely impact her.”
But Jadyn Waiser has been able to put all that aside to be part of a cheer camp, held every year for the past three years by the New York Jets Flight Crew cheerleaders.
“The Flight Crew cheerleaders are the official cheerleaders of the Jets,” said Denise Garvey, coach of the cheerleaders. “The junior program is one we created to involve young girls ages 7 to 14. They go to a camp, and they perform a half-time performance.”
It’s just a way to involve young girls in the football experience,” she added. “We create new fans, and reach out to a demographic that hasn’t been reached out to yet.”
The program of about 150 kids includes cheer and dance techniques as they train with the Flight Crew. And from there, Garvey said, the camp culminates in a half-time performance.
“We don’t have any prerequisites,” she said. “But this is the first time we have had a disabled student.”
Michelle Waiser said she heard about the program from a family friend. Her daughter, she said, does ballet at the , and cheered last year in a Bridgewater league for special needs children.
“But she wanted to try this because she likes dance,” she said. “It’s been amazing, and she asks to go every day. It’s only a few-week opportunity, but she absolutely loves it and looks forward to it.”
“She comes home smiling, and not everything makes her smile,” she added.
Waiser said her daughter got a video to learn the routine, and then worked with trainers at the camp to prepare.
And then on Saturday, Jadyn Waiser performed with the other members of the camp and the Flight Crew Cheerleaders, in front of about 80,000 fans.
“The game was amazing, and Jadyn had a blast performing in the halftime show,” Michelle Waiser said. “She rocked the house and danced her heart out.”
Waiser said her daughter wasn’t really nervous going in to the performance.
“I don’t think she understands what nervous is,” she said. “I think she’s very excited, she was going to dance and cheer in a big show.”
Waiser said her daughter doesn’t really understand what nerves and being scared are, but she just had a good time.
“I think it’s very touching that the Jets are willing to work with us, not that I didn’t think they would,” she said. “It was the way these people embraced her and went out of their way to really interact with her.”
Garvey said the cheerleaders have loved working with Jadyn because she has a lot of energy, and is always showing enthusiasm and excitement.
“It is never difficult to work with her,” Garvey said. “This was the first experience with a disabled student, but it’s been a very positive experience and we feel lucky that she enjoys the program.”
“You can do anything you want to do if you decide it’s something you’re interested in,” she added. “I think more disabled children will try this camp, and we would welcome that.”
For Waiser, it is important to push her daughter a little in the right direction, putting her with her peers.
“If we don’t try, we don’t know and don’t expose children with disabilities to the rest of the world,” she said. “It is our job to present her with all these opportunities.”
Waiser said she likes to see Jadyn always trying new things.
And what has also helped, Waiser said, is a shadow that works with her, both in the cheer camp and at her dance classes. Raritan resident Jenna McBride has been working with Jadyn in ballet.
“At the ballet recitals, she has a shadow who works with her, and she thought every single person at the recital was cheering for her,” Michelle Waiser said. “She curtsies and raises her hands out to everyone.”
“It is a great feeling too, I’m sitting there crying, and other parents say she can do it,” she added. “It has shown people that it is possible with the right support, right ability to practice, right private instructors and right people who want it to work.”
With the end of this season’s camp, Waiser said she understands that sometimes when you sign your child up for a program, you don’t know what to expect. But, she said, she was more than pleased with the results.
“I walk away from them with my kid happy, and she’s smiling from ear to ear,” she said. “It’s such a change for me to have that.”
Waiser said she hopes this convinces others to not be afraid to allow their children to try new things, despite any disabilities.
“I guess there are some people who are too afraid to say their child needs help or have their child stand out,” she said. “I want to show the world what she can do. But if you don’t ask, it can’t happen.”
For more about Jadyn Waiser’s work at the camp, visit her Facebook page.