When conversing with others is a difficult task, the divide between people can feel like a major obstacle. This division happens all too often, especially to those with a developmental disability that impacts the development of social skills such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals on the autism spectrum may encounter difficulties with communicating and understanding social cues. A theater group in Encinitas, California named Positive Action Community Theater or PACT, discovered that the performing arts were an extraordinary way to educate individuals on the autism spectrum about social and communicational skills.

PACT is a nonprofit organization that was co-founded by Kathryn Campion and her husband William Simonson in 2008. Simonson has experience in professional and community theater and television while Campion has been involved with the performing arts at a young age. She had been providing workshops that used theater and dance to teach life skills to the general public when she realized that many parents registered their children on the autism spectrum into the workshops. Campion tells The Coast News, “It was soon clear to everyone that we were helping these children to reconnect with their peers and to express themselves…Inspired, we decided to focus all our attention on teaching social skills to people with autism through the performing arts.” This has created a huge impact on the community. Many individuals with other developmental disabilities such as ADHA, and Down Syndrome and many people with brain damage are also enrolling in the workshops.

There have been studies that found individuals on the autism spectrum live very isolated lives. The isolation can be such a terrifying reality that many take their own lives. Campion had reviewed many studies that discussed this relationship. She tells The Coast News, “They rarely bond with fellow students while in school, and are more likely to be bullied.” She goes on to explain that many people “remain dependent on their families and government programs as adults.” The workshops enable individuals to become more independent by teaching communication and social skills through various activities.

Campion not only helps individuals with developmental disabilities but also hires them to work for PACT. She tells The Coast News, “Our ultimate goal is to one day turn PACT’s leadership over to a team of people with autism and other disabilities…In the meantime, we see all aspects of PACT’s operations as potential apprentice opportunities.” Jacob Redmon, one of the teachers at PACT, was part of their program before being hired. Redmon tells The Coast News, “I wasn’t much of an outspoken person…I had trouble reaching out of my comfort zone and I had trouble talking to people.” The PACT workshop allowed Redmon to become familiar with his voice through vocal warm-ups and then used improv to identify and understand social cues. These are lessons that he also teaches his class to develop communication and social skills.

This is only the beginning for PACT. They have plans on growing their PACTHOUSE PLAYERS traveling troupe and expanding to more communicates. They perform an anti-bullying event, Beyond Bullying, that they wish to present to more people. Campion also has the schedule for 2020 planned with the first workshop starting on January 25, in Encinitas. PACT has empowered individuals with developmental disabilities to acquire skills that will benefit them in society. Programs like these are essential, not only for the individuals they serve but for everyone to be able to understand each other and flourish as a community.

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