Friday, November 30, 2007

Model with Asperger Syndrome may have been eliminated because of her mild Autism

She scaled a rock-climbing wall in high heels in a single bound. And she was the chatty "girl" who provided "America's Next Top Model" with its best TV this season. But Heather Kuzmich was eliminated Wednesday, perhaps partly because she has a mild form of autism.

Kuzmich -- a student at the Illinois Institute of Art at the West Mart Center -- has Asperger syndrome. It makes Kuzmich slightly socially clumsy.

Some rivals made fun of her, like when she jumped in a shower with two freaked-out naked girls, because she'd called dibs.

But Kuzmich, a 21-year-old native of Valparaiso, Ind., isn't bitter in the slightest when she watches the show.

"It's pretty accurate, other than the fact that they weren't that mean to me. Bianca and I got along pretty damn well" despite a few televised squabbles, Kuzmich says.

"They aren't really showing parts where we bonded" because "they only have a certain amount of time" to produce an episode.

"I do believe I got a fair shake," Kuzmich says. "If I hadn't mentioned that I have autism, the girls would have not [claimed] I got treated specially. I never felt like I got treated specially."

In fact, Tyra Banks and other judges dumped her after saying they wouldn't show favoritism because of her syndrome-related troubles: Flubbing a TV ad big time; and failing to navigate cab rides while trying to book gigs.

I ask Kuzmich if contestants get secretly happy when a rival fails a challenge. That's only "kind of true," she says.

"Girls do get worried about each other, because you do realize we're human beings," she says. "So in the back of the mind, we do think that. But truth be told, we are worried about each other," too.

Often, reality show stars are villains, but Kuzmich was likable and earned a lot of face time -- and body time. She stripped nude on TV with ease when she showered.

"I knew they weren't going to show [nudity on the air]," Kuzmich says. "But at the time I was like, 'Ha.' I really didn't care at that moment. I was stressed out."

Then there was the small fit Kuzmich threw over sleeping arrangements. Bianca laughed at her.

"Wish I could get the joke," Heather responded.

"You!" Bianca clarified. "YOU'RE the joke."

Kuzmich does wish other girls had been given more airtime.

"There's people out there that think I said certain things so I could get more [TV] time. And honestly that's not what I was trying to do."

Kuzmich plans to pursue modeling. She won CoverGirl model of the week eight times. But she's also headed back to class to study videogame art and design, to have "something to fall back on."

"When I was on the show, I sneaked in a [Nintendo] Game Boy," she says, though producers took it away, along with other girls' iPods.

She rolled with it all.

"The experience was like modeling camp. It was very much fun," she says. "All of them were really great."


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