Mother's love sparks dance benefit

Paige Hall danced around the room with a smile on her face as Kristen Risser played off her movements, drawn to her like a magnet.

Risser danced as if shouldering the weight of the world, ready to protect and comfort Hall at every move.

Corona del Mar High School dance team director Cami Marseilles, 37, choked up as her students danced her story.

"It's a piece about my journey as a mother with a son on the autism spectrum," she said, a mother of two boys, who while not autistic have autistic-like symptoms. "Just fighting, fighting, fighting, and I almost ran out of steam, but I used prayer."

The school's dance team, Orchesis, recently rehearsed the piece for the Dance for Autism, a fundraiser for the HALO Foundation, or Healing Autism Through Learning and Opportunities, that takes place Sunday. Marseilles started the nonprofit this year to help financially support other families touched by autism or autism-like symptoms.

The show will feature a variety of dance styles, performances by high school and college dance teams, local companies and professional dancers.

The event brings new importance to piece, said Hall, 18, and Kristen, 17.

"This time, this is portraying the meaning of the whole organization," Hall said. "This is basically her story that started [HALO]."

Marseilles and her husband were thrown into the murky world of autism when their first son, Kai, was 2 years old.

He started to show the first signs of development deficiencies in his speech. He had regressed in his language — a red flag, Marseilles said.

They immediately put Kai into speech therapy, saw doctors about his diet and allergies and brought in a specialist to show them how to interact with Kai in ways to help his progress.

They didn't get him officially diagnosed as autistic because of the subjective — and controversial — diagnostic process, but he did qualify as autistic-like and was eligible to attend a special preschool through the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

For the family, the label autistic-like, doesn't mean he is autistic, and the label in general isn't important.

"For me, I just want to get him services," Marseilles said. "I don't care what you call it — flying polka-dot disease."

The costs of services, about $3,000 monthly, put a strain on their family.

"I cried a lot," she said. "We would run out of money within the first week of the month, and I would think, 'How are we going to pay the rest of our bills?'"

The costs made the Marseilles realize the disparity in autism recovery: Those who could afford it have hope of recovering; the poor don't.

The Marseilleses received financial support from their family.

Kai is now on track to transition to a typical classroom by second grade, Marseilles said.

Still, she wants to raise the money for 5,000 hours of treatment for NMUSD families in need — and she isn't the only one.

When she started HALO, also an on-campus club, 80 students and 25 parents showed up.

For Kristen, it was her time with Marseilles that made her want to get involved with HALO and do something to help autistic children.

"We dance every day of our lives, but this is kind of a way to do it for a better purpose," she said. "I feel like dancing for this show is dancing to help people, using what we do every day and what we love to help other people."

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

If you go

What: Dance for Autism, a benefit performance for the HALO Foundation

When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Loats Performing Arts Center at Newport Harbor High School, 600 Irvine Ave., Newport Beach

Cost: $50 for general admission, $100 for reserved premium seating

Information: http://www.halodance4autism.org

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