Entries in Toddlers and Tiaras (3)


Miracle Baby Astounds a Community

Ava Young was unresponsive for the first six months of life. Now, she is an energetic beauty. (TLC)(NEW YORK) -- For the first six months after her premature birth, Ava Layne Young was virtually unresponsive. She wouldn't make eye contact with her mother and didn't react to sights or sounds.

"I was very worried about her," said her mother, Ashley Young. "She didn't have the swallow reflex. She was eating, but it was like force feeding, like she didn't know how to take the bottle."

Ava was so tiny, she didn't even make the growth charts. Doctors had no explanation for her lack of brain function and were just weeks away from classifying a genetic disorder when the little girl just "woke up."

From that point on, nothing could stop Ava. Today, she is a little beauty pageant contestant featured on TLC's Toddler and Tiaras. Her story is part of tonight's episode, "Out of This World Pageant," which airs at 9 p.m.

"The best way to explain it is, she came alive," said Young, 27. "She didn't start to really live her life until later. And now, she is definitely making up for it. Everyone notices. She's an attention seeker."

Young, whose family lives in Lakeland, Ga., credits the tight-knit community and a prayer circle for Ava's miraculous recovery.

Today Ava is 4 and active in the child pageant circuit. She has won more than 100 pageant titles. Her parents have visited 11 states, carting their daughter to sing and dance in pageants and their 8-year-old son to baseball and football games.

"All of our time is spent with our kids -- I want them to have memories," said Young, who is studying to be an elementary school teacher. Her husband works in security for the military.

"She's a pretty good competitor now, and the judges can tell Ava loves it," said her mother.

As a baby, Ava was given MRIs and CT scans, which turned up nothing. Nor did blood tests. Doctors put the child through light tests, and her eyes would not dilate. Air tests revealed no response to sounds.

Eventually, a statewide interagency service called Babies Can't Wait was called in to help determine why the baby was unresponsive.

"As a parent, there are no words to say how you feel," said Young. "[A baby] is something you wait for your whole life – and now something is likely to go wrong. You wonder if it's genetic."

At six months old, Ava was about to be flown to Augusta for more tests, and her mother was mentally preparing herself for a lifetime of caring for a developmentally disabled child.

"It was very overwhelming," said Young. "I remember many nights sitting at home crying. If I had know how it would all turn out, I would have saved myself a lot of tears. You realize how priceless life is, knowing what you have to lose."

But then one day, Young was feeding the baby at her mother's home.

"I was holding her and my mom looked over my shoulder and said, 'I think she's looking at you,'" she said. "But I didn't want to get my hopes or her hopes up, so I said, 'Mama, please don't say that.'"

In a matter of days, Ava responded even further. "She began coming around and noticing and smiling," said Young. "I called the pediatrician and said, 'Something's going on here.'"

Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, pediatrician and author of Baby 411, said she is not familiar with the specifics of Ava's story, but premature babies can lag behind, then catch up to their full-term peers.

"It can be hard to know what the future holds," she said. "But I take an optimistic view – lots of kids do great."

Still, Brown recommends that the Youngs keep a watchful eye on Ava for learning disabilities. Early intervention therapies are also important for those children who are born prematurely.

"Sometimes we do see more subtle things and they can be important over time," she said. "She might not be totally out of the woods.... But I have seen kids who had kind of a rocky start and end up achieving many more milestones than we would have thought."

As for Ava's doctors, they couldn't explain her recovery. But her mother, a practicing Baptist, could.

"We prayed all the time, the whole community," she said. "Everybody knew our story and was upset. A prayer circle got together and continued to pray. That's what helped her through it."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Girl with Dwarfism Competes on "Toddlers & Tiaras"

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- She's only eight, but Lacey-Mae Mason is already a beauty pageant veteran.  She competed in her first one when she was 14 months old.

But despite seven years of experience, the little girl from Brooklyn, Conn., faces perhaps her biggest pageant challenge yet in a nationwide competition chronicled on the upcoming season of TLC's show Toddlers & Tiaras.

What sets Lacey-Mae apart from the other little girls on the show is that she has achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism.  Although she's about twice as old, she is about as big as a three-and-a-half-year-old, said her mother, Kerry Ann Mason.

But judging from the mantle full of awards and trophies she's already won, her condition hasn't stopped her from wowing judges.

"Her size hasn't been an issue," said her mother.  "People notice there's something different about her, but I'm not sure it plays much of a role."

Toddlers & Tiaras has generated a lot of controversy, with critics accusing mothers of sexualizing their young children and pushing them to pint-sized perfection at any cost.  But Mason said she got Lacey-Mae involved in pageants to teach her daughter that she is beautiful no matter what her physical limitations may be.

"She entered her first pageant because they were handing out trophies just for participating," Mason said.  "I thought it would be great for her self-esteem to tell her one day that the trophy on her mantle was from a beauty pageant."

Child psychologists say the chance for children with disabilities to participate in the same activities as non-disabled children can be beneficial, as long as they are not exploited and actually want to participate.

"Any time you can give a kid a more normal experience, it's a good thing for kids and people in general," said Alan Hilfer, chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

While not endorsing the idea of child beauty pageants, Hilfer said including people whose appearance may not be considered normal can be a powerful teaching moment.

"This is a chance for this little girl to feel special with the spotlight of positive attention on her," said Fran Walfish, a child and family psychologist in Beverly Hills, Calif. and author of The Self-Aware Parent.  "This could really be helpful to her self-esteem."

But psychologists also said it's important for Lacey-Mae to be the one who really wants to compete.

"If she is feeling pressured to do it and other kids give her a hard time and tease her, it's not going to be good for her mental health," said Nadine Kaslow, professor and vice chair of Emory University's Department of Psychiatry.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Toddlers and Tiaras' Star, 4, Dons Fake Boobs, Butt

Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Clad in a hot pink catsuit, complete with fake C-cup breasts and padded buttocks, 4-year-old Maddy Jackson channeled her best Dolly Parton in the most recent episode of "Toddlers and Tiaras."

"I want to show the judges how beautiful I am," Maddy said on the show.

"When she wears the fake boobs and the fake butt it's just like an added extra bonus and it's really funny when she comes out on stage and everybody thinks it's hysterical," her mother Lindsay said.

But not everyone is laughing. The online community has been buzzing with criticisms and expressions of disgust for Maddy's outfit and the sexualization of girls on the show.

"Is this child abuse?" asked one Twitter user in response to the episode.

"Hope for the future... fading...," another wrote as a retort to the show.


Maddy and her mother shrugged off the naysayers, acknowledging that the fake lady parts give her a leg up on the competition.

"We tend to score really well with it all the way around from most everybody," said Jackson.

But the ramifications for such behavior goes far beyond a single beauty pageant competition, experts say. Such sexualization at such a young age has the potential to affect a girl throughout her life.

"This behavior has an effect on what it means for the child herself, and what it means for other people, including other children who see it," said Diane Levin, author of the book, So Sexy So Soon: The Next Sexualized Childhood and How Parents Can Protect Their Kids. "The girl clearly sees being pretty as pretty in a sexy way, like a grown up woman."

The show has also been criticized as potential fodder for pedophiles.

Levin noted girls' dolled-up looks could push some adults who have trouble keeping boundaries with underage girls even further.

"This could blur the boundaries for people who are having trouble controlling their pedophilia predisposition," said Levin.

While a 4-year-old wearing fake breasts is an extreme version of this type of objectification, this sexiness begins to normalize the expectation of little girls' appearances, Levin said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio