Acting through autism, bullying

For Jacob Redmon, the theatre means breaking out of his shell and the stereotypes associated with Asperger's syndrome. For his sister, Rachael Redmon, it's a chance to stand up to bullying.

The Carlsbad siblings' mother enrolled them in the Encinitas-based Positive Action Community Theatre (PACT) in 2008, at first as a way to help Jacob, then 11, with social skills and as a fun activity for Rachael, then 5.

"I knew that improvisational theatre could help [Jacob] because it helps you with thinking on your feet and reacting quickly," said Sandy Redmon, the mother.

Kathryn Campion, who founded PACT in 2008 with her husband, said the Autism community reached out to her nonprofit shortly after it was founded.

"[They] told us that theatre was the perfect vehicle to learn how to communicate and interact socially, the main challenges of those with Autism," Campion said. "We were inspired by their love for their children and changed our focus to serving people with autism through the performing arts."

In the beginning, Jacob had difficulties taking on different characters and speaking in front of others.

"I remember specifically there was a time when we did scripted theatre and we were playing characters," he recalled. "I was so angry at what my character was and saying this wasn't me, I don't want to be this. I refused to act like that. I was so fed up."

But then — as more children on the Spectrum joined and Sandy, who had experience both with autism and teaching, took over the classes — Jacob grew out of his shell.

Jacob, now 21, says he has become better at thinking on his feet and arranging his thoughts.

"I kind of stopped with my fixation of not being a part of things because I realized that if you just keep staying on the sidelines, then a lot of things will pass you by," he said, adding he was eventually assigned a leading role as the Genie in a production of "Aladdin.”

Over the years, Campion said she has seen Jacob grow from a boy who refused to look at others as he spoke to a man with an assertiveness and openness about him.

"Often people with autism are interested and gifted in the arts, and mastering an art provides them with an ally that helps them deal with the daily challenges of living with autism," she said. "Theatre is all about social interaction. It provides ongoing opportunities to observe and practice the art of relating to others. The performing arts is a natural setting that builds camaraderie and brings people isolated by autism back into interaction with their peers."

But the arts can also help in other situations, she said.

In addition to the acting classes for young people on the Autism Spectrum, it also offers experiences like mock job interviews and singing and dancing lessons, each for nominal fees. (PACT programs are funded by a grant from the city of Encinitas and the Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program.)

For Jacob Redmon, the theatre means breaking out of his shell and the stereotypes associated with Asperger's syndrome. For his sister, Rachael, it's a chance to stand up to bullying.

The Carlsbad siblings' mother enrolled them in the Encinitas-based Positive Action Community Theatre (PACT) in 2008, at first as a way to help Jacob, then 11, with social skills and as a fun activity for Rachael, then 5.

"I knew that improvisational theatre could help him because it helps you with thinking on your feet and reacting quickly," said Sandy Redmon.

Kathryn Campion, who founded PACT in 2008 with her husband, said the autism community reached out to her nonprofit shortly after it was founded.

"[They] told us that theatre was the perfect vehicle to learn how to communicate and interact socially, the main challenges of those with autism," she said. "We were inspired by their love for their children and changed our focus to serving people with autism through the performing arts."

In the beginning, Jacob had difficulties taking on different characters and speaking in front of others.

"I remember specifically there was a time when we did scripted theatre and we were playing characters," he recalled. "I was so angry at what my character was and saying this wasn't me, I don't want to be this. I refused to act like that. I was so fed up."

But then — as more children on the spectrum joined and Sandy, who had experience both with autism and teaching, took over the classes — Jacob grew out of his shell.

Jacob, now 21, says he’s become better at thinking on his feet and arranging his thoughts.

"I kind of stopped with my fixation of not being a part of things because I realized that if you just keep staying on the sidelines, then a lot of things will pass you by," he said, adding he was eventually assigned a leading role as the Genie in a production of "Aladdin.”

Over the years, Campion said she has seen Jacob grow from a boy who refused to look at others as he spoke to a man with an assertiveness and openness about him.

"Often people with autism are interested and gifted in the arts, and mastering an art provides them with an ally that helps them deal with the daily challenges of living with autism," she said. "Theatre is all about social interaction. It provides ongoing opportunities to observe and practice the art of relating to others. The performing arts is a natural setting that builds camaraderie and brings people isolated by autism back into interaction with their peers."

But the arts can also help in other situations, she said.

In addition to the acting classes for young people on the autism spectrum, it also offers experiences such as mock job interviews and singing and dancing lessons, each for nominal fees. (PACT programs are funded by a grant from the city of Encinitas and the Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program.)

In more recent years, the group has also began tackling a subject every young person can relate to: bullying. Campion assigned Sandy to lead the efforts, when the unnamed program was still being developed.

At first, Sandy admitted she had to research and learn about bullying. Then, the experience became personal for her as Rachael confided in her about her own bullying. As Sandy developed the program, eventually named Beyond Bullying, Rachael became an integral member, helping with the demonstrations at middle schools and high schools across San Diego.

The hour-and-a-half-long presentations include humorous original skits, video clips and quotes.

Rachael, 15, said her goal is to let people know bullying is a problem that hasn't been solved.

"Even if you've been bullied, you've probably bullied someone in your life without even knowing it," she said. "People just don't understand the impact of their words."

Jacob, who now helps lead the improvisation classes, said he wants people to understand that those on the spectrum should not be treated differently because of their condition.

"I honestly don't like having the whole title of Asperger’s syndrome anymore because I feel that I no longer want that to apply to me anymore," he said. "Not to demean the title of Asperger’s, but I don't think people fully understand it. Autism has a bit of a bad rep. I want to show that I'm really no different than any other person."

For more information about PACT, visit pacthouse.com, email info@pacthouse.com or call 760-815-8512.

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