For Some Children With Autism, Dance Is a Form of Expression
“Ballet incorporates a bit of mime,” Ms. Schlachte said. “When you watch a ballet, you can see expressions of joy, sadness, fear, excitement and other moods on the dancers’ faces and in the way they carry their bodies. Kids on the spectrum can’t always tell if the facial expressions, body movements and the music are happy, fearful or sad.”
The program, she said, “doesn’t dumb anything down. We’re teaching real ballet techniques.”
When Liam Kay of Los Angeles was 5, he wanted to learn those techniques. He watched a video of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing “The Nutcracker” and was hooked.
It took six months for his mom, Jamie Kay, to find a ballet class for him, because of his autism. “He joined Ballet for All Kids a month later and hasn’t looked back,” she said.
Liam’s first-grade teacher told his parents that Liam constantly fell out of his chair in class. “This stopped about a month after he began class,” Ms. Kay said. “Ballet also brought forth a confidence in him that my husband and I had never seen before. Liam never thought he was good at anything until after his first year of ballet. It became a must for him to do.”
He went from one day to two days a week after school. Now 13, he volunteers with younger children in tap dance classes, though he prefers ballet.
“He’s made friends who are both neurodiverse and neurotypical in ballet,” his mom said. “And as an eighth grader, this is finally emerging outside of dance. Neurotypical students are inviting Liam to parties and to hang out at their homes or go to the movies. All of this truly stems from him dancing with Ballet for All Kids. It’s the only inclusive environment he has been in consistently since he was 6.”
Madeleine and Vivienne Bell, 12-year-old twins with special needs, enrolled in the program at age 3 ½. Madeleine has autism and a sensory processing disorder. Vivienne has global developmental delays and is nonverbal. “When they were first diagnosed, my husband and I thought there may not be any typical opportunities for them and that their lives would be dominated by therapies,” said their mother, Erin Bell.