UNI's Spectrum Theater helps kids with autism - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UNI's Spectrum Theater helps kids with autism


One in 88 kids are living with some form of autism.  Educating and engaging those children can be challenging.  But there's a UNI professor is dedicated to helping both teach and entertain kids on the autism spectrum through the arts.

The past year hasn't been easy for 12-year-old John Glascock.

"Some of it stems from the death of his step-dad last spring.  So it's been a rough year from him at school:  emotionally and academically," said Suzanne Bartlett, John's mom.

That's on top of the daily challenges Glascock faces with autism.  To help her son, Bartlett was willing to try anything, and stumbled upon "Spectrum Theater" workshops at UNI in Cedar Falls.

"He loved it, and I was just blown away by what Gretta does.  She's so talented and so energetic.  Basically, it was engaging the kids in imaginary play and social skills, and things like that--exactly what these kids need," Bartlett said.

That's just why theater professor Gretta Berghammer created the program to engage autistic children.  Using "Spectrum Theater" as a springboard, Berghammer created a show called "Playful Inventions," with UNI students as the actors.

"My goal with this show was to model a variety of ways to play and pretend that might inspire, that might encourage, that would invited young people on the spectrum or off to engage in pretend play, spontaneously," said UNI youth theater professor Gretta Berghammer.   

Everything about the performance is a little unique:  from the comfortable seating, to soft lighting and music, and the way the young audience members become part of the play.  Berghammer got special insight into making the production just right from John Glascock, who she appointed her assistant director.

"He just gave me some great feedback, and then eventually wormed his way into the show," said Berghammer.

John's mom says this experience has brought so much joy to her son, bringing him out of his comfort zone.  And as the young actor-director has discovered, the experience is all about inclusion.

"We can all play together," Glascock said.

It's an invaluable lesson on everyday interactions with anyone who has special needs. 

If you'd like to learn more about "Spectrum Theater," call Gretta Berghammer at (319) 273-2149 or email gretta.berghammer@uni.edu.   

You can learn more about autism by clicking here.

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