Next Steps: A Path for Every Child

Compiled from the reflections of Jennifer Adams, Sheri Williams Pannell, Jane Peschel and Katie Cummings

The Academy was truly honored to experience so many inspiring moments during the Next Steps program for students with autism. Here are a few moments we will not soon forget.
  • Cory showed great kindness towards his fellow campers, gently placing an arm around anyone needing a little encouragement.
  • Soft-spoken Jonathan, who we could barely hear when we first met him, became comfortable enough with his new friends to try using a “big voice” during drama exercises. It was almost as if he were a different person.
  • Ivan shared a glorious voice soaring over the class as we lead a West African folk song. The look of surprise on his face due to the positive response from his classmates was incredible.
  • Nicolas wrote a simple song on the piano during his music class, he titled the song “Peaceful Love.” He explained; “I used ‘peaceful’ because I like peaceful music. And I used ‘love’ because that’s what I feel when I come in this place.”
Parents even noticed the change in their young people, one mother shared, “He is truly enjoying the class and for the first time he is showing no signs of the anxiety and avoidance that typically go along with group activities.”

Students with autism often have trouble knowing how to react in social situations, but every time we turned around this week, we saw them interacting with great care and sensitivity. One First Stage staff member commented, “This program has shattered all of my preconceived ideas about what autism is.” These students not only shared their fears, anxieties and factual (sometimes blunt) view of how things should work, but they willingly shared their intelligence, their talents, and their unique and profound gifts. All students, traditional or somewhere on a “spectrum,” big or small, deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and admiration.  They are people.  They have thoughts and feelings and desires and expectations and needs and wants and imaginations and words to say…..and in so many moments, we saw all of those things behind their eyes.

Before the class one young actor nervously shared, “I want to be a Christian singer and a chemistry teacher. I’m not so good in front of people though.” After just a week of classes and theater experiences, she stated with confidence, “I learned that I’m pretty good at this acting stuff.” When a student finds the confidence to follow their dreams, we all remember the true meaning of transforming lives through theater.

Next Steps will be back in session during Spring Break Theater Academy, April 1-5, 2013.
For more information, CLICK HERE.

For more information about Next Steps please contact Program Director Jennifer Adams at (414) 267-2975 or email

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