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Growing up on the autism spectrum, musical theatre was my therapy

David Petrovic is a teacher, author, motivational speaker, and actor. To view his TEDx Talk, and to learn more about him and his book (Expect a Miracle: A Mother/Son Asperger Journey of Determination and Triumph), see his website here.

I am a 24-year-old person with autism and Tourette’s who has been involved in musical theatre for almost 17 years. It opened the door to a new world of infinite possibilities from the moment I had the courage to step through it. This is a path I never would have taken if it wasn’t for the encouragement of my first grade teacher.

At that time, I repeatedly mimicked the voices and lines of characters that I had seen on TV, movies, or plays. Because I would do this in school, my classmates’ learning was disrupted; it also cast a negative spotlight on me. My teacher suggested that my mother get me involved in theatre to redirect my verbal desires more appropriately. Once I was taken under the wing of an understanding director, I was able to soar to new heights.

What started out as a fun hobby evolved into one of my greatest passions, and one that became extremely therapeutic. I stand firm in testifying that theatre has provided life-coping, life-altering, and life-benefiting skills for me. Some even helped me accept and embrace my autism!

  • Emotionally, theatre helped me develop a greater sense of compassion, empathy, and sympathy for my fellow man.
  • Intellectually, being involved in productions made me stay organized with school work. It also motivated me to accomplish expectations and commitments at home and elsewhere: if these conditions were not met, I was not allowed to attend rehearsals.
  • Physically, even though I was initially uncoordinated in the world of dance, I have developed a more confident style, swagger, and grace in how I move onstage. It has spilled over into how I carry myself in real life, and it has kept me healthy and active.
  • Finally, in a spiritual sense, what I’ve discovered is that life takes place on the stage. When the actors perform together, awareness comes to life for audiences. This allows the latter to understand what the characters are teaching us about what their “real world counterparts” go through. Every show has a deeper life lesson that can ignite reflection on how we can better ourselves, IF we choose to look for it. By pondering the message of each show, I discovered depth that carried over into academic critical analysis. I realized and appreciated the emotional wealth that theatre contains; instead of only seeing things in black-and-white, “life in living color” brought about new perspectives for me.

On a lighter note, theatre provided me an escape from stress and hardship, and an opportunity for joy and friendships. For any reader who has a child on the spectrum, or IS on the spectrum, I strongly recommend theatre as a way to improve one’s social skills and boost morale and confidence. It also fosters relationships that could potentially teach and enhance teamwork. These are just some of the ways that theatre has changed my life! To learn more about this and other topics, consider reading my co-authored book that expounds on my journey.

I do not know what my life would be like if I didn’t have theatre in it! And it’s not just about acting! People can apply their gifts in different capacities; whether it’s stage crew, makeup, costume design, set building, or other theatrical contributions, you can shine…onstage and off!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.