As many parents and carers of children with autism can relate, there is always a story to tell about lack of services and substandard education provision. We too could tell such a story and I guess it is because of this that our Son’s achievements in musical theatre make us so proud.
Four years ago Joseph, aged five and newly diagnosed with autism and adhd embarked on a musical theatre class. We thought that this would be a good opportunity as he was forever singing and performing and has a phenomenal rote memory so was able to remember all the lines in a school play as well as his own. A good start we thought!
Being more than a little cautious I spoke with Jonathan, Roseanna and Adam at Chesterfield Studios about Joseph’s needs which included him being very literal and routine led, hyperactive with no fear of danger and adhoc seizure activity to name but a few quirks. This was received with open arms and we never looked back.
Joseph’s confidence went from strength to strength. He took part in various performances and never batted an eyelid when faced with solo parts and big audiences.
We then looked to expand his skills and he started dance classes with Diane Bradbury school of dance and piano with Chesterfield Studios. In the first year Joseph came out with distinctions in his ballet and tap exams and worked hard to get through the high anxiety he has about being picked on for being a boy and dancing. His achievements were remarkable especially as everything else seemed to be crashing down around our ears as far as his education was concerned. His anxieties were so high on a daily basis that his ability to function became more and more impaired which meant that the theatre and dance teaching could have quite easily collapsed too. However, they went with him and adjusted their teaching to suit his changing needs.
In June 2014 Joseph auditioned for ‘Oliver’ with Chesterfield Operatic Society and got the part of a work house boy and a member of Fagin’s Gang. He was beyond excited and eager to start. The rehearsals commenced and he found out quickly that they were hard work and required a good attention span. However he showed great strength of character and pushed through his difficulties to make sure that he was doing it right. The main problems were the echoey and loud environment of the rehearsal studio, long rehearsals and repeating of parts of the show to ensure that the boys had it absolutely right. He asked many a question, needed clarification on phrases that he didn’t understand and this was met with reassurance and a smile every time. We frantically searched for moulded ear plugs to help dull the noise. Once located the Company worked quickly to rush the order through and with these in place, Joseph’s coping ability increased significantly. We spoke with Joseph’s Doctors about how to manage his medications and although they were also juggling a lot of other health type issues with him, they worked with us to provide him with the support he needed to keep him fairly level. The excitement and eagerness to perform was enough to convince the clinicians that this was a great opportunity to increase Joseph’s self esteem and confidence which was taking a battering in other areas of his life. Chesterfield Studios and dance studio staff supported the production with the Operatic Society so therefore Joseph was around familiar adults who were used to getting the best of him.
The performance soon came around and before we knew it the opening night was upon us. On stage Joseph put all that he had learnt into action. He and the boys excelled and thrived on the experience. The cast and stage management team as well as the staff were supportive and encouraging throughout which spurred them on more so. It was evident that Joseph presented as a swan as on stage he was cool, calm and collected yet back stage he battled with his anxiety levels, social abilities in the dressing room and perception of failure if he got the tiniest thing wrong. On the opening night we were met with an unforeseen challenge as Fagin was made up with long grey hair an extended, crooked nose and a beard. I caught sight of the spectacular transformation first luckily and was able to prepare Joseph for what he was about to see. Joseph has a fear of old people! Especially ones with white / grey hair and wrinkled faces. The actor playing Fagin was very good and came down to the dressing room to assure Joseph that it was only make up and not real. Joseph inspected it closely before accepting this but in the end was happy that it was just pretend. As parents we chaperoned each of the six nights to ensure that we could keep him on track and this paid off. Not a meltdown in sight! Instead we had a very happy little boy at the end of it all who has not only learnt a lot about performing but has built some positive and long term relationships. Now he is eagerly awaiting his next opportunity and so are we as it is possibly the best therapy he could access. This couldn’t be achieved however without the hard work and dedication of the team of Chesterfield Studios, Diane Bradbury School of Dance and now the Chesterfield Operatic Society. Thank you.