CHILDREN WITH CHALLENGES instructor Kate Andreu works with student Jaclyn Sweet during a class at New England Regional Theater Company in Brunswick.

CHILDREN WITH CHALLENGES instructor Kate Andreu works with student Jaclyn Sweet during a class at New England Regional Theater Company in Brunswick.


Rebecca Beck wants to use the performing arts to help give autistic children a sense of confidence and acceptance.

“Autistic children are typically working outside their body looking in at themselves,” said Beck, who is trained in voice and dance instruction. “So working with movement on a stage is key.”

To that end, Beck is starting Children with Challenges, a series of dance classes for those on the autism spectrum or with special needs.

“Our goal here is to start them young and incorporate them into the mainstream,” said Beck. “This will not only give them a sense of confidence and being accepted, but will help other children in the mainstream learn diversity and acceptance of others.”

Beck opened Studio 48 Performing Arts in Brunswick in 1996 and is the founder of the nonprofit New England Regional Theater Company to train children in the performing arts. The genesis of Children with Challenges began with Beck’s earlier success with autistic and special needs children.

Beck started working with Elizabeth Porter when Porter was seven years old. Porter was nonverbal, didn’t socialize with the other children in class and kept mostly to herself. Now, at 18, Porter has performed the national anthem at multiple sporting events and attends college.

“Getting Elizabeth on the stage and into her own space were the toughest things,” said Beck. “But when she was nine, she came in one morning, and someone brought up something about a kid bullying another kid, and I heard Elizabeth say, ‘this is what I think.’ She gave her opinion out of the blue, learned her voice, and from that day forward, everything was different.”

Today, Jaclyn Sweet, 12, is like Porter at age seven — nonverbal. Beck and her instructors are hoping Children with Challenges can help Sweet reach her potential.

“These are new and different ways to access those parts of the brain that might not be used as much in children with special needs,” said Moore.

Jaclyn’s private session included dancing to music from “The Little Mermaid,” using streamers attached to dowels to mimic waves, jumping on different colored squares and rolling over on mats.

Jaclyn’s mother, Carolyn, said that she’s always looking for programs to help her daughter grow and express herself.

“For a child like Jaclyn, she has so many limitations and challenges that’s it’s hard to find something that she can connect with and enjoy,” said Carolyn, who has also recently enrolled her daughter in adaptive skiing, adaptive horseback riding and adaptive swim classes. “It helps to include all of these kiddos who might be on the spectrum or have special needs. It helps to understand that if one child runs this way on stage and one runs the other way, it’s OK, because this class is all about letting the children experience dance in their own way.”

Carolyn said that she has seen many parents hold their children with special needs back from programs like Children with Challenges because they don’t know how their child will react to the situation.

“It’s a struggle to get kids to come sometimes because kids with special needs — especially autism — might have a very structured life,” said Sweet. “And a lot of times that works for those kids. But I’m trying to promote that my daughter is the opposite. She needs change. We go to the beach, we go here, we go there. I think if parents gave this a try they would realize that their child could benefit and grow.”

CHILDREN with Challenges classes begin on Monday, March 6. Sessions run for six weeks and are $75.
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