Arts for US – A Music & Performing Arts Program for Youth on the Autism Spectrum

art-0401-theatreA new music and performing arts program, Arts for US, launched in March at Harris Studios in Redding. Designed for children and teens on the autism spectrum, the program gives students an opportunity to express themselves through the performing arts in a unique setting created especially for them.

“Children on the spectrum often have distinct ways of learning and relating to others. Students in the program are extremely talented but often struggle in social settings,” explains Robert  Brown, who, together with studio owner Trish Harris, co-founded Arts For US. In addition to nurturing creativity, the program gives kids an opportunity to develop interpersonal skills in a nonjudgmental setting.

Brown met Harris when seeking out a music instructor for his son, Joshua, who is impacted by autism. “In my search I soon realized that most of the music teachers I met are not used to working with kids on the autism spectrum. When I met Trish, it soon became clear that she held a vision that matched exactly what I was seeking for my son.”

Harris had long wanted to create an affordable program geared for families of kids with autism and other special needs; a program capitalizing on participants’ strengths and interests, developing not only theater skills of acting, music and dance, but also social skills and flexible thinking – ultimately fostering a sense of accomplishment and nurturing each participant’s sense of self-worth. 

As Brown and Harris put their heads together, over the course of many months they developed a program outline and submitted a program design application to Far Northern Regional Center, a state-funded program serving nine Northern California counties. In January 2016, FNRC approved the program design, making Arts for US program a reality.

Harris is thrilled, “The best part about this program is that it’s designed specifically for these kids. They won’t be excluded, ostracized or seen as ‘different.’ This program welcomes their uniqueness and will assist them with learning the social and behavioral skills needed to be included in mainstream programs. Everyone needs a safe place to express themselves and be heard. My hope is that this program will be their safe place, and create a bridge to their future social and artistic outlets.” 

“Arts for US is a great start in helping kids on the autism spectrum live a full life,” says Brown.  Program participants are placed in the class most suitable to their unique skills and needs. In each 12-week session, groups of nine students ages 9-19 meet weekly, with one teacher for every three students. The Arts for US instructors specialize in performing arts education, and are trained specifically to work with children on the autism spectrum.

“We have a marvelous creative team,” says Brown.  “Our lead teacher, Milinda Taylor, is a treat to be around. She instills a lot of fun – watching her with the kids is incredible. I’m truly awed by her talent and ability to work with the participants.” 

Taylor says, “I feel honored to be a part of such a wonderful team. It is exciting watching these kids blossom right before my eyes. We all have something to contribute to our communities, and to partner with these young, talented kids, helping them find their unique voices, is priceless!”

Students learn singing, drama, movement, musicality and social skills, with each session culminating in a talent showcase the public is invited to attend. But the real “show” is revealed each week in the faces of participants as they grow, learn and connect in ways not formerly possible.

To learn more about Arts for US, contact Robert Brown and Harris Studios at (530) 515-7151 or by email at artsforautism@harris-studios.com.

Lisa Shara
About Lisa Shara

Writer Lisa Shara lives in upper Northern California where she is involved in a variety of community projects.

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