Today I want to write about something that has been a passion of mine for quite some time – giving individuals with autism and related disabilities the opportunity to perform and SHINE.

This is top of mind because I’ve been rehearsing for a holiday program with the preschoolers at Amazing Kids Club, an awesome therapeutic program for individuals with autism.

For their Holiday Show the children will be:

  • Playing rainbow colored handbells to the chords of “Jingle Bells” while I sing
  • Singing and doing movements to the song “On Christmas Day” about things we see at Christmastime
  • Singing and moving to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with verses added for movement (“let’s all do a little clapping / let’s all do a little patting / let’s all do a little stomping.”)
  • Dancing with their classmates and family members to “Feliz Navidad”

Over the past 17 years, I’ve assisted children of all abilities to perform in Little Red Riding Hood, The Nutcracker, In the Woods, and several Talent Shows.

Here are some tips I’ve learned about helping children perform and shine, regardless of their perceived disability or level of support needed.

In a class with individuals of differing abilities and levels of functioning:

  • Have multiple levels of participation within each song. For example, in “Jingle Bells,” several of the children will be playing the chords on hand bells. The children who need more support will be jingling bells with hand over hand assistance.
  • Pair individuals together – Individuals who need less support can assist those needing more support in playing instruments, moving around the stage, and saying their lines.

In a class with individuals who have severe and profound disabilities or are needing maximum support:

  • Use communication devices – Clients can welcome the audience, announce song titles, and say parts from a script using their devices
  • Use hand over hand assistance – Give clients the opportunity to play instruments by providing hand over hand assistance
  • Use auto accompaniment or even (gasp!) recorded music so you can model movements and provide support
  • Enlist the help of other support professionals such as OT, PT, ST, and ABA

Why am I so passionate about giving every individual the opportunity to perform and to shine?

Many skills are developed when our clients rehearse for and perform a show.

SO many skills.

Social communication skills, expressive language, motor skills, memory, self-expression, executive function, attention. I could go on and on.

Not to mention the self-esteem that is developed after a successful performance.

I’m also passionate about giving all individuals the opportunity to perform because as a parent myself, I know how incredible it is to see your child up on stage.

You feel pride, you get to take pictures, and you have the chance to encourage, support, and applaud them.

For all these reasons and more, I find a way to have the individuals with whom I work perform for their families and peers often.