Click photo to enlarge
The Barker family (pictured) has teamed up with O Shucks-Ahh Sushi Bar and Grill to raise the pageant entry fee for six year-old Carlee (bottom right), first-time pageant participant. Carlee is competing in the upcoming Utah division of the National American Miss pageant, taking place in June at Salt Lake City. Photo provided by the Barker family
The bond between brothers and sisters is strong, but when they are twins, the bond can be even stronger. Just ask Carlee and Colby Barker.

The six year-olds were born prematurely and shared an incubator.

During that time, the days-old Colby, who had a tendency to stop breathing, would receive a smack from his sister, reminding his lungs to breath, according to their mother Carrie Barker.

"Before any of the monitors would know something was up, Carlee would be making sure her brother was OK," Carrie said. "They've had each other's back since day one."

The tides have turned on the Jeremy Ranch kindergarteners. The once-dependent Colby now helps his sister breathe, in a sense. The young girl who suffers from photosensitive epilepsy was additionally diagnosed with autism six months ago, according to her mother. Nevertheless she has high ambitions. Carlee is competing in the upcoming Utah division of the National American Miss pageant.

The Barker family has teamed up with O'Shucks-Ahh Sushi Bar and Grill to raise the pageant entry fee of $480 for the first-time pageant participant. This past Monday the local restaurant, located at 8178 Gorgoza Pines Road, held a fundraising event for Carlee. During the affair, 50-percent of meal costs were donated to help support Carlee's dream of becoming a princess.

The unused portion of the money raised is being donated to the Park City School District special education programs.


Advertisement

"We didn't know right away she was autistic, although I had my inklings. From the time she was 12 months old we noticed there was something wrong," Carrie said. "We always blamed it on the epilepsy. It wasn't until this past year in school we noticed a big change."

According to Carrie, while in preschool both children matched other students and it wasn't until this year at Jeremy Ranch she noticed a gap between Colby and Carlee emerge.

"Carlee started to separate from the other children socially and academically," Carrie said. "Colby can read really well, while Carlee is still trying to figure out letters and sounds. We looked at every medical explanation we could to explain what was going on with Carlee. She is definitely autistic and it OK."

The girl with the extra chromosome has been experiencing a hard time holding conversations and eye contact with people, especially other kids, added Carrie. These difficulties have made school problematic, leading to extra speech and physical therapies.

Parents Carrie and Cody Barker had felt they had lost their daughter to the development disorder, until a piece of mail caught the eye of the young girl. An invitation to interview for a spot in the National American Miss Utah Pageant, to be held June 21 - 22 in Salt Lake City. A spotlight competition with "normal" kids made the parents nervous.

The invitation showing young girls dressed for pageantry enticed the girl who dreams of becoming a Disneyland princess and lives for fashion, said Carrie.

"We don't even know who nominated her for the competition, but whoever it was, Cody and I couldn't thank them enough," Carrie said. "We lost her there for a while, but we've got her back. It's funny, we thought this was the last thing we should get her involved in."

According to a press release from the pageant, the competition has an emphasis in developing self-confidence, learning good sportsmanship, as well as setting and achieving personal goals in the young girls that compete.

"This has been the perfect opportunity for her to work on difficulties we have been focusing on this past year," Carrie said. "Sitting and listening, all those attentive skills that come naturally to other kids, Carlee is trying to pick up. This competition has brought out a different kid and we can't be more excited for her."

With a mother's instinct and past experiences with Carlee melting down in public situations, the nervous mother was skeptical walking into the audition, with Colby and yellow lab Sunshine in tow for support back in February.

The young girl sat in the crowded conference room at the Red Lion hotel located in downtown Salt Lake City and was very observant, taking in everything that was going on around her. When the pageant contestants were called to the stage, panic struck the mother, not the young autistic girl, who leaped for the stage without hesitation, according to Carrie.

"Originally I thought the judges would let the parents stay close to the children so they would be comfortable. But when they took the girls to a room away from the parents, I thought, here it comes, she's going to freak out," Carrie said. "Carlee stood in line and walked into the other room and my mouth about hit the floor."

Carlee emerged from the judging room an hour later, with a smile on her face - she was selected to compete in the upcoming pageant.

Along with dozens of young ladies throughout Utah, she will compete next month for a spot in the National Pageant in California, including a trip to Disneyland.

This past weekend, Carlee and her support posse, made another trip to the Red Lion to participate in a pageant preparation session.

"They had two different session times set up for all of the girls coming from around Utah," Carrie said. "I thought we should go to both sessions, to make sure Carlee was as comfortable as possible. She did so well, we skipped the second one."

Carlee has already picked out her "princess" dress, but the shy interviewee denied a description of its style, probably a pageant tactic used to keep her design wisdom a secret from competition.

"She is getting back to normal. I can't believe something I was so terrified of her doing could be such a blessing," Carrie said. "I love it when she proves me wrong."