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Robin Bennett
BY Robin Bennett
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10 Reasons Your Child with Special Needs Belongs Onstage

The theater arts present a stage to learn about life, the world, and how its pieces fit together. For a child with special needs, the theater can spotlight different skills and concepts that may be challenging to understand. Inclusive theater programs are proving that the stage can be a place for transformative therapy, as well as a venue for friendship and fun.

Here are 10 reasons your child with special needs belongs onstage.

 1. Growth in Social Skills

Many children with special needs who join a theater workshop have never had the opportunity to engage socially with peers to communicate without expectation or judgment. Through experience with theater games, rehearsal, and stage work, children who see the world through a different lens have the opportunity to interact with others in a way that celebrates being unique. Students in an inclusive theater program take part in exercises that can develop several social skills such as:

  • Listening for cues when others are speaking.
  • Eye contact (with the person speaking, tracking, etc.).
  • Waiting for your turn.
  • Working with others.
  • Staying on task.

2. Growth in Following Directions

Assisting a child with special needs to comprehend and independently perform a directive or expected behavior can be a job in and of itself! The theater arts “structure” themselves around actions/reactions that have incentive and reward. As time goes on, directions can be followed as incentive and reward may decrease, because it has become patterned response.

Levels of Prompting

 

3. Growth in Communication Skills

Theater as therapy takes the accepting nature of the arts and adds structure that is designed with positive outcomes for kids with special needs. This structure emphasizes that desired outcomes—like applause—follow trying new things or working on expected behaviors. like communication:

  • Holding a conversation.
  • Listening patiently.
  • Encouraging others.
  • Using kind words/actions.

 4. Learn About Teamwork

Teamwork is an intrinsic part of the theater. Working together is reinforced as something that must happen in order to be part of the fun and receive the reward of applause. From listening when it’s someone else’s turn to sharing the attention, there are opportunities to rehearse this element in every activity within theater.

 5. Develop Body Awareness

 In an inclusive program, the theater can be utilized games and directives to:

  • Set boundaries with where to stand/how to move in relation to peers.
  • Consider how a certain character moves, especially in relation to others.
  • Learn and experience that the appropriate body language might change for different characters or situations.

6. Own the Applause

There are no limits to how a child can express themselves in theater. Students can take ownership of every communication and every action that they perform or choose to do differently than someone else. This ownership results in:

  • Confidence in themselves.
  • Courage to try things independently.
  • Recognizing that positive actions bring desirable experiences.

 

7. Trying New Things

The beauty of inclusive theater is that when everyone tries something, courage becomes contagious! Finding bravery to try new things is easier in a circle of others because no one is in it alone.

Instructors model how:

  • A games is played.
  • Activities are accomplished.
  • Encouragement is given to others.

Because of theater’s celebration of what makes every child unique, every attempt is worthy of applause!

8. Comfort with Physical Activity

Theater is traditionally a place to experience and display physical skills like dancing and choreographed movement. With inclusive theater, all physical elements are presented with appropriate adaptations for each group. The ultimate goal is to modify curriculum to make the activity enjoyable and accessible for everyone involved.

 9. Applaud What Makes Them Unique

The stage presents a level playing field—each person is able to be who they are and not be deemed “wrong” or “less than”. Theater is firmly founded on expressing individuality. With inclusive theater, this truth is applied throughout—from the interaction with fellow students to the amount someone chooses to communicate.

10. Experience the Magic of the Theatre

All performers experience the benefits theater brings before they ever know the joy of sharing their talent with an audience. For a child with special needs, this joy becomes undeniable when they hit the stage and have a welcoming audience applaud their unique gifts. 4th Wall Theatre Co. co-founder, Annie Klark says, “This is what 4th Wall was founded upon: the idea that the magic of the theatre is something that should be shared with everyone, regardless of their different abilities.”

Robin Bennett

Written on October 19, 2017 by:

Robin Bennett has been the Blogger Extraordinaire and an Instructor for 4th Wall Theatre Co., specializing in theatre arts and therapeutic recreation for youth with special needs, since 2012.  She is also a proud woman with a physical disability and advocate for those with disabilities of all kinds. She is writing on behalf of 4th Wall Backstage which provides theatre curriculum and resources to people of ALL abilities."
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