Tapping Hidden Talents
Participating in a theater program offers many concrete benefits for kids with disabilities. Memorizing lines and playing a role can be a great way to learn how to interact with others. "It takes the pressure off trying to figure out what to say or do in a group setting, because it's already been scripted for them," explains Beth Myers, a former special-education teacher and the director of educational services at The Kelberman Center, a not-for-profit treatment program for kids with autism in Utica, New York.
That comforting structure of rehearsals and the plays themselves have helped Lucy feel comfortable trying new things. "Routine is so important to Lucy. She always needs to know what's happening next, and in a play it's laid out for you," says Ford. "That makes it easier to go outside your comfort zone saying lines or singing a solo." All of this gives kids confidence, which is especially critical for children who are used to focusing on what they can't do.
And this confidence is something they can carry away from Wolf PAC too: Memorizing complex lines of dialogue helped Josie realize that she could also remember multiplication tables, after years of struggling to grasp basic math concepts. And while day to day she still has to work to make eye contact and understand her mom's sarcastic sense of humor, when she's on stage Josie lights up the room. "She's discovering that she can do things that not everyone can do," Konrad says. "We might never have discovered who she really is without Wolf PAC."
Dave Sill knew that his oldest daughter, who was 4 when she took her first Wolf PAC class, would be a theater natural. But he and his wife, Malissa, worried about her 3-year-old sister. "She just shut down in social situations," he explains. "She wouldn't talk or make eye contact and would cling to her mom when we said hello to people she'd met dozens of times. It was breaking our hearts." Wolf suggested they sign her up for Wolf PAC classes, but the Sills were skeptical. "We couldn't see it working out as well for her," Sill explains. "But in six months, she was a totally different kid."
It's stories like these that demonstrate precisely what Wolf PAC has to offer. And it's why Rachel Nichols wanted her sons, Simon, now 11, and Lucas, 7, to join. "They're learning that people are different, but everyone is equally important," she says. Two years ago, Simon bonded with an older castmate who has a developmental disability and he's always happy to see her again at Wolf PAC events. "From Simon's perspective, they worked together to create a show," Nichols explains. "That bond matters more than their differences." As a middle-school teacher, she understands that mainstreaming kids with disabilities is often imperfect: "Schools can have a community feel, but achievement is measured in grades, which means success is very individual," she says. "At Wolf PAC, successes are shared. It makes a great case for how children can work together in a way that's joyful for everyone."