Finding activities for children and teens that are both good fun and good for them can sometimes be a challenge. It’s even more so for parents of individuals with disabilities: Programs are out there, but they are not as widely known as options for neurotypical youth.
Here, we’re highlighting two local organizations whose combination of therapy and creative programming is helping all participants excel.
Open Spot Theatre
Launched locally as 4th Wall Theatre Co. in 2012 and scaling nationally as Open Spot Theatre in 2020, this organization provides accessible drama programs for youths of all abilities.
The goal: to break down the “fourth wall,” or remove any barriers, and allow every child to join, says Open Spot Theatre co-founder and co-owner Annie Klark.
At Open Spot, which has served thousands over the past decade, neurotypical and neurodivergent youths alike learn how to sing, dance, and act in the same groups, with the help of trained theater professionals, whose backgrounds include American Sign Language and special education. Kids also play an active role in developing lines and scenes. Sessions take place in a fixed setting (such as a meeting at a specific location once a week) and are offered at schools as a one-day program.
Currently, 80 percent of Open Spot participants have a disability. Mary Sue McLaughlin says the program has allowed her daughter, Emma, who has Down syndrome, to be the star of the show. “Although Emma had participated in school plays and had taken dance classes for years, her involvement was often considered an accommodation,” McLaughlin says. “Her role in plays, a silent one. Her placement on stage, in the background.” Open Spot, however, changed that.
Programs that aren’t one-offs have a runtime of six to eight weeks and are concluded by a final performance. As the curtain falls, students exit the stage with more than just theater experience: They’ve gained social and communication skills and, oftentimes, lifelong friends.
From Aug. 8 to 12, Open Spot is also hosting a summer camp in partnership with the Detroit Opera House. For more details and to register, visit openspottheatre.com
Far Therapeutic Arts and Recreation
Founded in 1951, Far Therapeutic Arts and Recreation offers a creative outlet for youths and adults with disabilities. The Birmingham location offers music, art, dance, and recreational therapy. The nonprofit also extends its services to nearly 30 public schools in 15 school districts; the programs are provided during the school day and tailored to the specific needs of individual students.
Serving more than 1,500 individuals, Far’s music therapy is the nonprofit’s biggest draw, making up 40 percent of programming. “We work with people of any age and any diagnosis,” explains Pamela Ayres, Far’s president. “Anyone from little babies,
18 months old, to adults in their 80s and 90s.”
For kids and teens, however, Far offers therapeutic programming that includes everything from a summer camp to events like Halloween trunk or treat. At Camp Far Out, kids ages 5-15 spend two weeks fully immersed in the arts. At the end of the summer program, Camp Far Out participants put on a public performance for friends and family to enjoy.
“Far has provided the resources and support to allow my son to be on equal, if not advanced, at times, footing with his neurotypical peers,” says Mark Palmer, whose son Leo attends Far programming. “Participating in a percussion group, as well as having the opportunity to perform in front an audience, has helped him overcome his fear of sudden loud noises.”
Each of Far’s 19 therapists has experience working with individuals of different needs and age groups. Music and recreational therapists are board certified. Ayres says, “By having such a huge therapy team, we can make sure that we have the right therapist to work with each individual to help them achieve whatever their goals for themselves or their families might be.”
To enroll, visit far-therapy.org or call the Far office at 248-646-3347.
This story is from the May 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more stories in our digital edition.