It’s Not Your Garden Variety Of Theatre Fun – Little Red Hen’s Summer Program for Children and Teens with Autism


The aptly named Not Your Garden Variety (NYGV) Theater in Chico is geared for children and teens with autism. Currently running as a six-week summer program, participants ages 4 to 17 learn new ways to express and interpret emotions, build friendships, and strengthen skills needed for group participation.

For children with autism, significant milestones can be achieved through role-playing, performing arts, music, sensory exploration, and collaborating with peers. 

As participants engage in pretend play with peers, they gain an increased sense of body language awareness. Each actor develops a sense of personal accomplishment and self-confidence, and all participate in a final production in front of a live audience.     

art-0401-red-hen2“My daughter Amanda has participated in the theater program at the Lifespan Center for the past two summers, and it has been an amazing growth experience for her,” says Roni Gagnon, of Chico. “The first day of the program, Amanda had intense stage fright and insisted that she would not be getting on stage, let alone speaking lines in front of people.  Six weeks later, after having been coached and taught in ways that she didn’t even realize were challenging her – and because she was having so much fun – Amanda knew all her lines and performed magnificently in front of a packed audience! I give full credit to how brilliantly the staff at Little Red Hen worked with my daughter and helped her overcome her fears in new and fun ways.”

NYGV Theater takes place at Little Red Hen’s Lifespan Center, located in Chico. A hub of activity and resources, the center’s mission is to promote lifelong access and opportunities for persons within the autism spectrum, and their families, so they can be fully included and participating members of their communities.

In partnership with Far Northern Reginal Center, the Lifespan Center achieves its goals through public awareness, education and research related to autism, serving over 100 children with autism each year. 

“The Lifespan Center is Amanda’s favorite place to go outside of home,” says Gagnon. “The theater program specifically is one that she looks forward to every summer.”

Erika Birkholm, senior director of Little Red Hen, says, “We had over 20 children and teens in our Wizard of Oz production last summer.  We had a non-verbal young man play Oz using an iPad to speak his lines. Our littlest kids played the flying monkeys, and the older groups wrote jokes to incorporate into the script.  We really made this our own and adapted it to our group. It was a very fun, collaborative production that we are all very proud of.”

This summer NYGV Theater embarks on its third year. Registration and program dates will be announced soon. In association with Far Northern, there is no cost for students participating. For more information visit or call (530) 897-0300. 

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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