San Diego Performer with Epilepsy and Autism Shines On and Off the Stage

SAN DIEGO, CA, February 6, 2018 – When you first meet Heather Rose Atkinson you know you are meeting someone very special. She has a sparkle in her eyes that has made her the shining star that she is today. For the past five years, Heather has had a starring role in productions by Arms Wide Open (AWO), a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults with special needs by fostering caring social environments and creating opportunities for recreation and participation in the arts. Heather’s acting and singing roles with AWO have included Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Mersister Attina and Princess Rose in the Little Mermaid, Rosetta in Peter Pan and Nala in The Lion King. She is set to star as Charlie’s mother, Mrs. Bucket, in AWO’s production of Willa Wonka at the Lyceum Theatre in March 2018 (3/2, 3/3, 3/4 & 3/9, 3/10, 3/11) at Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego, CA.

Heather, who is 24, had her first seizure when she was just one year old. Doctors hoped that she would outgrow her seizures as some children do. Unfortunately, Heather never has. While her seizures aren’t life threatening, they affect her daily functions in life. Heather, who is also on the autism spectrum, grew up with a strong foundation with the support of her parents, Mike and Stacy, as well as her seven older siblings.

In addition to Heather’s passion for acting, she is busy helping with her family’s thriving plumeria tree farm and Hawaiian themed bag business at their home in La Mesa, CA. When Heather isn’t acting and helping with the family business, she enjoys floral design and stenciling. She recently displayed her designs at the Del Mar Floral Show and won the Judge’s Prize. Heather dreams of working in or starting her own floral shop one day.

Growing up as a child with special needs, Heather realizes the impact education had on her life and now wants to make a difference in the lives of children with special needs. She took it upon herself to write letters to principals in her school district expressing her interest in reading to classrooms with children with special needs. As a result, Heather now loves reading to these children every Friday morning.

While Heather needs a great deal of rest due to her seizures, she loves keeping busy when she has the energy. Heather receives Tailored Day Services from Toward Maximum Independence (TMI), a nonprofit that has been providing services to children and adults with developmental disabilities since 1981. Heather is receiving assistance from TMI’s Employment Facilitator, Betty Irwin. Betty helps Heather look for a volunteer position, as well as assists her with preparing for her floral and art shows.

“TMI is great at encouraging me,” said Heather. “Betty sees a whole different person in me. She sees me in my environment and sees joy in me.”

We all go through our daily lives sometimes doing tasks alone and sometimes with others. Having support from TMI gives Heather not only the assistance she needs to be successful, but a witness to her life.

Heather recently displayed her artwork at TMI’s client Art Night. Betty assisted Heather with making sure she had everything she needed for a successful evening. Heather’s parents are grateful for the support.

“Heather had started making her world really small,” said Heather’s mom, Stacy. “She doesn’t deal well with noise, crowds and fluorescent lighting. Betty has got Heather to go outside of her comfort zone. She is compassionate and understanding, but strong enough to help Heather overcome some of her fears.”

Please call Arms Wide Open at (619) 579-6197 for tickets to see Heather in Willy Wonka in March. For more information about TMI’s services for children and adults with developmental disabilities, please visit tmi-inc.org.

Author: Ron Cook

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  1. You are truly inspiring Heather. I am looking forward to seeing you perform in Willy Wonka. 🙂

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