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Dance camp transforms autistic seven-year-old

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Glenasia Butterfield has found her happy place at Sui Generis.

The Hamilton dance school’s camp is a first for the autistic seven-year-old who loves that it allows her to be “just like any other kid”.

“She has progressed since she’s been here,” said Janae Peterson, a dance instructor with Sui Generis and a para educator at West Pembroke Primary School, where Glenasia is about to enter her fourth year. “She’s definitely in her element.”

The dance classes have given her a new way to express herself and being around children who do not fall on the autism spectrum has also opened her up, Ms Peterson believes.

“I’ve seen her grow in the last week and a half. Her speech has improved just [by] interacting with different children. At [West Pembroke] she’s around children with autism but being around children that don’t have autism, she’s progressed. They’re so patient with her; they allow her to express herself.

“Working with her throughout the school year and just seeing how she’s transitioned with the camp is just mind-blowing to me.”

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. The causes of autism spectrum disorders are unknown but it is usually diagnosed in childhood, around the age of two or three.

According to the American Psychiatric Association: “Some children with autism develop normally until toddler-hood when they stop acquiring, or lose previously gained skills. According to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], one in 59 children is estimated to have autism.

“Autism spectrum disorder is also three to four times more common in boys than in girls, and many girls with ASD exhibit less obvious signs compared to boys. Autism is a lifelong condition. However, many children diagnosed with ASD go on to live independent, productive, and fulfilling lives.”

Glenasia is “not high-functioning”. As the Department of Youth & Sport does not accept children with special needs in its programmes, she was typically left in the care of friends or relatives after school and during the holidays.

As the end of the summer term neared, West Pembroke teacher Zola French-Ray mentioned Sui Generis.

Instructors there introduced Glenasia to hip hop, African and modern dance, ballet and yoga, which she “really, really enjoyed”.

“She’s having a ball. She’s having so much fun,” said Ms Peterson who insisted that accommodating Glenasia in her group of five to eight year olds wasn’t difficult at all. “Because Glenasia is autistic doesn’t mean she has to be excluded from what she loves. [She can] be included with her peers although some things I may have to explain to her differently so she can understand and grasp what I’m saying.

“We offer empowerment classes within the camp to boost the girls’ confidence. They have little sayings they repeat – I am smart, I am beautiful. [The repetition] is good for children with autism and it’s something that she remembered even the next day, which was impressive – she was the only one that actually remembered the sayings. Yes, there are slight modifications, but she blends right in with the girls.”

Sui Generis trained in borrowed venues until it found a home on Front Street in February.

“We actually started as a community dance group where we used to dance in different events – the [Bermuda Day] parade … anything we were asked to perform at,” Ms Peterson said. “And then the owner, Deshae Edness, she always had a dream of opening her own dance studio so this is just basically a manifestation of what she wanted when she was a little girl coming to pass.”

Sui Generis has a goal to inspire “confidence and self-esteem through dance”. According to Ms Peterson, it is evident that Glenasia has been transformed during her relatively short time there.

“It’s a big change [that she has experienced]. Normally she has little episodes when she is unable to express her feelings or emotions and because of the dance camp she’s only had one of those situations.

“It’s really helping to express herself. Also, the children that are here at the camp, they work very well with her. They’re very patient, very calm. They all know that she has autism so they approach her differently, they help her. She’s one of them now. Most days I have to peel her out of the studio because she doesn’t want to leave.”

For information on Sui Generis visit www.suigenerisdancestudio.com

Glenasia Butterfield (Photograph supplied)
Glenasia Butterfield (Photograph supplied)

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Published July 30, 2021 at 2:01 pm (Updated July 31, 2021 at 8:16 am)

Dance camp transforms autistic seven-year-old

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