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Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Brave, Strong Girls: Ellis

Brave, Strong Girls is a series from cuteheads that aims to shine the spotlight on special girls who have faced challenges in their young lives and continue to be examples to their friends and strangers alike. Through this series, we hope to show that different is beautiful and that the things that make us unique make us special.

Each girl will have a special dress designed and named for her and a photoshoot just for her. Dresses will be sold at and all the profits from the sales of these dresses will be donated to the charity of the mother’s choice. Photography generously donated by Le Zu Photography and photoshoot space donated by The West Studios

Ellis is an exuberant four-year-old in Houston, Texas. She loves music and twirling, and her infectious energy lights up the room. I’ve known Ellis’ mom Ashley for years, working with her on various cuteheads projects (remember this shoot?), so when we launched Brave, Girls, her daughter Ellis came to mind as a perfect person to feature.

Brave, Strong Girls: Ellis

Ashley is mom to three young girls, all four and under, and with Ellis, faces the unique challenge and gift of parenting a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The way Autism can manifest is so different in each person that I thought it would be worthy to sit down and chat with Ashley about how Ellis’ Autism is unique, how it makes her special, and how they work together to create a happy, loving environment for their daughter.



All who were present at this incredible shoot were really blown away, not just by Ellis’ positive attitude and spirit, but by how patient, loving and kind Ashley was with her. They speak their own language, communicating through songs and things that mean something to Ellis. You can tell this family has a special bond (dad was there too!).



I’m so excited to introduce you to the Cardoza family today, to share their unique perspective. All the profits from the sales of the Ellis Dress will benefit The Arc of Houston, an organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetime.


cuteheads: Excited to chat with you today. Tell me a little about where Ellis is on the spectrum and what her condition is.

Ashley: Ellis is 4 years old and on the Autism Spectrum. With the Autism spectrum, it’s not necessarily linear. For Ellis, while she doesn’t struggle with sensory issues, large crowds or a few other typical behaviors of kiddos on the spectrum- she struggles with communication and playing with her peers. She’s currently working on communication with us, and learning how to relate to her peers through play.

We went the route of a pediatric neurologist and through the chromosome microarray we were told that she has a deleted gene that is so incredibly rare. Her deletion is 3p26.3. Ellis, being one of the few with this particular Chromosomal Disorder, answered some questions and simultaneously created a bunch more. She is considered non-verbal, and we are working hard to help her learn to communicate her wants and needs with us.


cuteheads: How did you come to the decision to seek professional help to understand what was happening with your daughter?

Ashley: When Ellis started losing skills and words around 18 months we started using our state’s Early Intervention services. Around the age of 2 we noticed she still wasn’t expanding her vocabulary, she wasn’t responding to her name, and she never played or sought out her peers. We were already in early intervention for speech by then, so we knew there were other red flags to look for. We knew some of her behaviors weren’t typical of her peers by then.


cuteheads: What is your relationship like with your daughter?

Ashley: We are extremely close. Since ellis struggles with communication, a lot of her needs and wants are expressed differently than you’d expect. I have had to learn how to read her and the situation to understand what she is wanting or frustrated about. It’s still a learning process, and I’m not perfect.

cuteheads: How do you connect with her, and how does it differ from how you connect with your other children?

Ashley: Honestly, how we connect with her is no different than how we uniquely connect with each of our kiddos. Each of our 3 girls have different tastes and strengths, and we meet them where they’re at. While Ellis enjoys us cuddling or dancing with us, her sister also does too.



cuteheads: What are some of the challenges your family faces when parenting Ellis?

Ashley: For us, going out to public places is often more of a challenge. Ellis is a runner, so safety is a big deal. Birthday parties require us to shadow her to make sure she is safe and not getting into mischief. While Ellis looks like your typical 4 year old, she isn’t developmentally 4 for some things (but way advanced on others). So expectations are a challenge. People expect her to act like a 4 year old.


Sisters shown here wearing the cuteheads Mika dress and custom design

cuteheads: How have your other children reacted and adjusted to Ellis’ condition?

Ashley: When Ellis is really excited, she’s jumping and can’t self regulate how loud she is. A lot of time kids are curious as to why she’s not playing with them, or that she is ignoring them, or doesn’t talk. When we run into those instances, we always say “Ellis is working on those things!”

cuteheads: Within her special ed classroom, how does Ellis interact with others? What are her friendships like?

Ashley: One of our goals for Ellis is that she seek out friendships and interaction with her peers. She prefers to play independently or parallel to her peers in the classroom. She’s still learning how to play with others.


cuteheads: What are some of the common misconceptions about ASD and more specifically, about Ellis?

Ashley: One of the common misconceptions is that Ellis is so happy and joyful, so how could she be autistic? Or that she’s only a “little bit” autistic. Ellis is happy, and social, and does love being around others. She just shows her interest in a different way.



cuteheads: How has Ellis’ personality shone through despite her lack of verbal skills?

Ashley: Ellis loves music. So one thing we’ve seen is just how much she lights up for music! She is so good with patterns, recognizing letters and numbers, and she repeats her favorite songs.

cuteheads: What do you hope for Ellis as she grows up and reaches new milestones?

Ashley: We hope for her to have loving friendships and all the opportunities our other girls have.

cuteheads: How do you think Ellis can be a role model to other girls?

Ashley: Ellis has a great sense of empathy. If we are watching movies and she senses a “bad guy”, she will get upset for the underdog. I think her sense of empathy is a great skill every girl should have.


cuteheads: What makes Ellis brave and strong?

Ashley: Ellis works harder on things than her peers likely will have to. She will have to meet countless new adults and therapists and learn to live in a neurodiverse world. What makes her brace and strong is the fact we see in her spirit a girl who determined to work hard and figure things out. She is a problem solver, and she shows such creative ingenuity when given the chance.

From Ellis :

cuteheads: What is your favorite activities?

Ellis: Swimming or Dancing and watching Super Simple Songs.

cuteheads: What is your favorite food?

Ellis: Cereal and Popcorn!

cuteheads: What is your favorite treat?

Ellis: Popsicles!

cuteheads: Favorite movie?

Ellis: Alice in Wonderland.


All profits from the sales of the

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