Audrey Rhodes Missed Her School Dance in April after being hospitalized

Audrey Rhodes thought she’d never get another chance to dress up and dance with Tyler Hanks, the boy she had a crush on.

Rhodes, 16, was unable to attend her high school prom at Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, last month because she was hospitalized in February with autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

“She was so worried about it – when we visited, she was crying because she’d wanted so badly to ask this boy to the prom,” Audrey’s mother, Midge Rhodes, 43, a homemaker with five other children, tells PEOPLE. “It was hard to see her so sad.”

Already reeling from the difficult decision she and her husband, Bryan, had made to admit Audrey to the Utah State Hospital as her mental health worsened, Rhodes couldn’t sleep one night and had an idea: What if she put on a “mini” prom for her daughter and asked Tyler if he would be Audrey’s date?

“I thought that maybe I could arrange a nice dinner and dancing for both of them at the hospital,” she says. “I never imagined it would become something much bigger than that.”

After Tyler signed on to the plan, about 100 of Audrey’s classmates told Rhodes they wanted to help. On May 1, friends and strangers showed up to decorate a church gym in the town of Alpine near the Rhodes’ home, hanging a disco ball and white lights from the ceiling, covering the walls with cut-out stars and blowing up balloons in Audrey’s favorite colors, silver and pink. They also put up a large banner announcing the prom’s theme: “Audrey’s Night Under the Stars.”

When Audrey arrived at the dance, she was met at the door by Tyler, 17, who presented her with a pink rose wrist corsage. Dressed in an elegant pink blouse, black skirt and pearls, with her hair and makeup done by caregivers at the hospital, a beaming Audrey handed Tyler a teddy bear and a card with a poem inside.

“Roses are red, violets are blue, you’re the worst prom date, and nobody likes you,” read the first part. Then at the bottom, Audrey wrote, “P.S. This is reverse psychology. I actually want to go to the prom with you! Love, your future girlfriend, Audrey Rhodes.”

“She still has a sense of humor, just like she did at school,” says Tyler, who has known Audrey for about a year. “She’s such a fun and outgoing girl and it’s just so sad what happened. It was so cool to see everyone pull together and grant Audrey’s wish. I was proud to be her prom date.”

Once an active girl who loved soccer, dancing and hiking, Audrey was in the fifth grade when her parents noticed signs that something was wrong.

“Once her hormones kicked in, she would stay up all night giggling and disappearing into her thoughts,” says Midge. “She couldn’t sleep because she was lost in these fantasies that became more extreme as she got older. She became very manic and we couldn’t leave her alone.”

It took four years, numerous doctor visits and a 10-week hospital stay for Audrey to be diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Her psychiatrist recommended that she be admitted to the Utah State Hospital to receive proper treatment and care.

“It was hard on the family when we first took her there,” says Audrey’s father, Bryan, 46, who works at a software company. “We had come to the brink of putting her in the hospital several times and pulled back. So when we actually did it, for the first few days we thought, ‘What have we done?’ ”

Moving Audrey to the hospital was especially tough on her sister, Emily, 15, who shared a room with her at home and had become her best friend.

“We used to hang out together, play silly games together and walk to school together,” says Emily. “We played soccer and laughed a lot. And then suddenly, she’s gone. We all cried a lot.”

Emily and another sister, Jessica, 18, helped coordinate the planning of Audrey’s prom with their mom and dozens of other volunteers. They helped line up a deejay and refreshments, sent out invitations and set up the tables and decorations.

“I hope there is a prom queen here,” Audrey told them after she’d taken to the floor for the first dance with Tyler. Moments later, her sister Jessica called her to the stage and tearfully presented her with a floral crown as everyone chanted Audrey’s name.

Taking the microphone, Audrey emotionally addressed her prom friends. “Thank you guys for doing this for me. I’m going through some hard times, being stuck in the hospital for medication reasons. This is really a dream come true,” she said.

“It was the best night of her life and the best night for our family,” Midge Rhodes said later. “The kids who came together to do this for her are so compassionate – they’ve grown up with Audrey and truly care. They’ve always accepted her and know that mental illness is not something to be afraid of. It’s a kindness we’ll never forget.”

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