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Children with autism making strides one step at a time through dance

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WEST HARTFORD – A Connecticut dance company is changing the lives of children with special needs through dance.

The Sonia Plumb Dance Company is teaching dance classes to children age 6-11 on the autism spectrum. The goal is to give them a safe place to dance and explore movement.

“Each child with autism is very different, so one could be non-verbal while another could be very high functioning, we’re just trying to give them a place where we can help them," instructor Kayla Rodriguez said. “It’s just really important to cater to those with special needs because they don't always have opportunities that other people have.”

Rodriguez teaches the students the basic elements of dance technique. She also engages them in dance games that focus on cognition, multi-tasking, verbal and math skills, as well as social cues.

“Socialization is huge, they’re able to learn to interact with somebody in a safe and kind manner,” Rodriguez said. “Interacting is a big part of life so being able to practice that here in a safe space is great.”

A rewarding part of the class, Rodriguez said, is seeing the kids make choices.

“A lot of times they're told, 'you're not doing this right,' but in a dance class in a movement class anything is valuable,” she said.

In a press release for the classes one parent wrote: “We love Kayla’s class! Not only is it lots of fun, but most importantly, it’s a great way to work together on so many skills – from following directions to developing speech and cognitive skills. Kayla is amazing with the kids. My daughter connected with her from the very first class. Highly recommended for special needs and typical kids as well!”

Rodriguez studied psychology and has practiced dance for 18 years. She teaches the classes with the help of University of Saint Joseph interns. They’re held at the University’s O’Connell Athletic Center once a week for 45 minutes.

The classes are free, by the generosity of Udal & Associates, Ameriprise Financial. To register or for further information contact: admin@soniaplumbdance.org or call 860-508-9082