Arts, Central New York, Community, Education, Entertainment, Music, Things to do

Students With Autism Discover New Talents at Circus Camp

Camp Director Andrea Wandersee says the theater is a space where everyone can be accepted for who they are. © 2018 Natalie Maier

Click play to hear how one local theater company is helping children with autism spectrum disorder find new talents and make new friends.

Audio Transcript:Open Hand Inclusion Program Transcript

By Natalie Maier, SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Participating in extracurricular activities can sometimes be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder. Open Hand Theatre Company is trying to change that with their two-week Circus Camp Inclusion Program.

The Inclusion Program is open to students with autism spectrum disorder. Campers learn all sorts of circus talents, from puppet-making to synchronized hoola hooping. Camp Director Wandersee said the ability for campers to explore different interests is particularly helpful to those on the autism spectrum.

“If one child says ‘oh no, I don’t like to do that kind of artistic project,’ that’s ok, you can come do this over here,” Wandersee said. “I think that’s the really fun part about circus camp. It casts a wide net and includes a lot of people and a lot of interests.”

Wandersee knows first-hand how hard it can be as a parent trying to find the right fit for a child with autism.

“My son is autistic. He’s 19 now, but I definitely know that was my experience,” Wandersee said.  “I had to work pretty hard with teachers and camp counselors to make sure things went smoothly.”

The staff at Open Hand Theatre work one-on-one with students to place them in varying creative arts classes and help facilitate new friendships. Wandersee said many of the campers with autism spectrum disorder discover new talents and lose reservations about performing or even interacting with other campers.

“To be able to amplify who you are, and be accepted for that, is really important,” Wandersee said.

This is Open Hand Theatre’s 27th year. Wandersee said many campers return year after year, and even go on to become counselors and camp leadership. She is already looking forward to next summer and helping more campers with autism spectrum disorder discover their space in the creative arts.