Mainstream Dance Classes and Autism: Is It Possible?

5 years ago

Irish Step Dance ShoesMy daughter, Katie, was watching something on PBS last year about girls involved in Irish Step Dancing. She really loves to dance, but a formal class has never been something she could handle, so she is left to her own interpretive dances at home. She did show some interest in trying Irish Step, and I was willing to give it a try, but there aren't many schools that offer it, and the classes never meshed with her therapy schedule.

Last week I found out about a class held where my son attends preschool. I emailed the teacher and found out the beginner class is held on an afternoon we actually have free. Part of the class rules, though, is that parents can't stay and watch. I understand. The teacher wants to have the full attention of the kids, and I know parents sitting there, gawking and waving and what not, can be distracting. Unfortunately, there is no way I can just up and leave for an hour. I need to be there in case Katie needs a regrouping break, or has a meltdown.

I emailed the teacher back and asked if Katie could try it this week, and if I could possibly stay to watch. I explained that Katie has high-functioning Autism and that I wanted to make sure it wasn't only a good fit for her, but also for the class as a whole.

It was an email I hated writing. For some reason, I am always afraid she won't be welcome when I come clean about her Autism. That these classes are run by teachers who want a perfect little dance troupe (or gymnastics class, or art class, etc) and they will curse the sky, wondering why we had to pick their studio. Do I think Katie deserves to take lessons. Yes. But I also know how hard she can be to handle. I feel guilty forcing anyone, not trained in special needs, to take that on. Of course, this could be moot, as the teacher was quick to respond to my first email, but has yet to respond to the second

The thing is, I want her to be a part of a typical class. I am sick of hunting down special needs classes. I don't want a dance class where she is allowed to just run around the whole time, not really learning dance. (We dealt with this in gymnastics. She wanted to do real gymnastics, but the special needs class was more or less sensory play and no real instruction.) She has the desire to actually learn specific dances and routines. Yes, she has more trouble than the other kids, but why should she have to take a special needs class when she wants something more?

I know we are supposed to go in, guns blazing, letting everyone know our kids deserve what any typical kid does. That there needs to be acceptance, and understanding, and all that jazz. But this is reality, and that's not usually how things work out. So my question is: Do you feel weird going outside the special needs world, or has your child been successful in classes not specifically designed with them in mind? Have you ever been turned away because of your child's Autism, or are you like me, hesitant to even sign them up?

Jen Troester -- Living Life, With a Side of Autism


Photo Credit: davedugdale at

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