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'Agricultural specialisterne': rural employment revolution for those with Autism
The subject of recent posts has mainly been on Autism-related events and organisations in eastern Pennsylvania.
Across the state border, as its name suggests, the Big Apple Circus
is a Brooklyn, New York-based nonprofit circus. The Big Apple Circus
has become known for it's community outreach programs, including Clown Care...
Alisa and Mike Maron don't often take their son to events. Though not a "child," Greg Maron is a 24-year-old nonverbal young man on the autism spectrum. Last fall, Alisa Maron's sister Jodi Benway bought the family of three tickets to the Big Apple Circus for a special performance geared to an autism spectrum audience.
Greg Maron had the time of his life, his mother said.
"He thought it was great," the North Brunswick resident added. "It is hard to keep his attention, but he was fascinated. He is not usually able to sit still, but he did. He sat for the whole thing. He was very interested. I was amazed. Greg is an adult, but he still needs one-on-one. He has a cognitive impairment. A shorter attention span. He can't tell us is he liked something, but he sat through the performance and was smiling."
That is the reason why the one ring circus presents shows such as "Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism," said Will Weiss, executive director of the Big Apple Circus. At 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 2, the Big Apple Circus, currently in residence at Patriot's Park in Bridgwater through March 13, will present "Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism."
The word "embrace" is purposeful and meaningful, Weiss said.
"We work to create a joyful experience for all," Weiss said. "The whole experience from the time they walk up to the tent to when they leave is for people who are differently-abled. We are in this together. Everybody al over the world can understand this experience of the circus. It is a very visceral experience. Those on the autism spectrum are a very special audience. This is tailored for us to embrace them and invite them in to share the experience."
...To create a show appropriate to an autism spectrum audience, the Big Apple Circus joined with experts from the organization Autism Spectrum Disorders to adapt this year's show —"The Grand Tour" — for families with members on the spectrum. Weiss said it includes the same world-class artistry as the full performance with a shorter running time of 75 minutes, adjusted lights and sound, a calming center, pictorial social narratives and specially trained staff and volunteers to assure "a show of joy and wonder.".
"The show allowed for others to get up if they needed," Alisa Maron said. "It was a little shorter. Greg tends to yell out. Usually, he gets up. Gets excited. And if he did here, it would be OK. This was definitely an autism-friendly performance."
"The circus is for everyone — from [the age of] 3..." Weiss said. "We really want everybody ...to have the same kind of experience of joy and wonder."
Just like the longer show, "Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism" will present "The Grand Tour...
"The Grand Tour" features world-class entertainers as they perform breathtaking acts from the four corners of the globe. Clowns, jugglers, acrobats and aerialists appear with ponies, puppies and more as the troupe sets off on its own whirlwind adventure, accompanied by the live, seven-piece Big Apple Circus Band.
The concept of "Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism" grew out of the Circus' other performances for those with sensory disabilities. Many years ago, the Circus adapted shows for hearing and visually disabled audiences. Many families with children and adults on the autism spectrum would attend the Circus of the Senses shows, but it really wasn't the right adaptation for them, Weiss said.
"For 'Circus of the Senses,' we would ramp up the sound," he said. "There were ASL: interpreters around the ring doing sign language. The lights were turned up. That was doing nothing for people on the autism spectrum, but we knew families were coming because they appreciated that we were opening the tent up to people that are differently-abled and they wanted an environment that would be more comfortable for their kids as well. In 2012, 2013, had meetings and created 'Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism.' We worked with the Autism Speaks and The Theater Development Fund as well as a couple of others in the field to adapt our performance. We debuted 'Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism' in the 2015 season."
For Wednesday's performance, the Big Apple Circus puts in place what has been learned to make the show more comfortable for their differently-abled audience.
"Less stimulus is better," Weiss said. "Instead of a big spotlight, we have lighting that is softer on the ring. There are lights in the audience. It is less jarring a distraction. Even the band is muted."
The circus environment is transformed for this show, too. The audience is made up of fewer people in each row. Volunteers and performers participated in specialized training. Calming centers are set up for members of the audience who might need a break from the show.
"They should feel free to get up and go back and forth," he said. "No one will tell them to sit down or shush them if they speak out or act up. There is help available. Someone is there to be supportive. That is part of the experience as well."
Weiss added that for many on the autism spectrum, advance knowledge also offers comfort. The Big Apple Circus offers specific information about the show to groups, schools and families.
"Those with autism tend to have a greater sense of security when they are prepared," he said. "To know in advance the acts, atmosphere, everything..is helpful. We try to provide them with more upfront. It makes the experience not so overstimulating, scary or off-putting."
...Corey Anne Kochis of East Brunswick, a special needs teacher in Sayreville, said many of her students, who are all classfied on the autism spectrum, will be attending the Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism performance with their families.
"I am so happy that they will be putting on a show specifically for students on the autism spectrum," Kochis said. "For many of us the circus is a place of wonder and excitement but for a child with autism the circus can be very overwhelming. The lights are bright, there are lots of loud sounds, and there is constantly people/animals motion which could cause many children with autism to melt down or not even make it through the door. "
The teacher does everything she can to prepare her students for these special events.
"All of the preparation is very important," she added. "If teachers and parents help their children understand what they may see, hear or even smell while at the circus there is a greater chance that they will enjoy it and lessen the chance of a meltdown. The circus is a magical place, and providing special shows for students with autism means that all kids can be a part of the magic that is the circus."
For Weiss, these special performances are his favorite.
"I think I may be the happiest guy there," he said. "I am feeling so honored seeing the smiles, hearing the laughter and seeing kids loving what they are are experiencing. The experience is just 10 times greater."
Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism performances are supported in part by the Frank J. Antun Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan, Roy A. Hunt Foundation, James T. Lee Foundation, Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, The Rudin Foundations, Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Shubert Foundation, AXA Foundation and with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Additional support was provided by Big Apple Circus members...
Last edited by Visionary7903; January 18th, 2017 at 11:02 AM.