During World Autism Month, Fiona Mitchell explores how street dance classes can enhance the lives of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

Eighteen months ago, Hebe, 15, who has autism and dyspraxia, began attending the Crossroads Care Saturday Club for children and young people aged 8-18 years old with SEND. What her parents wanted most for her was to make local friends. They didn’t anticipate that the club would also ignite a passion for dance, and the benefits have been amazing.

The club offers a range of activities including karate, arts and crafts and street dance. In addition to this, it offers respite for parent carers and is a haven for young carers who can enjoy a healthy meal and take a much-needed break from their caring roles.

Despite some initial anxiety about attending the club, thanks to the encouragement of staff, Hebe soon settled in, and was immediately drawn to the dance classes led by choreographer Tyrell Paisley of dance company Ghost Dance Troupe.

‘Hebe absolutely loves the dance sessions at the Saturday Club,’ explains her mum, Katie. ‘It’s the highlight of her week. She practises the moves at home and although she can be selectively mute, after attending the Saturday Club she is so chatty.’

From simple rhythmic movements to more complex choreography, the club’s dance sessions cater to different abilities, allowing the children to progress at their own pace.

Like many of the children at the club, Hebe has problems with her coordination, but since starting the classes those have improved.

Tyrell brings the children together to plan dance moves and gets everyone to encourage each other. Social interaction can be a real challenge for people with autism, but teamwork and taking turns enhances social skills in a fun and relaxed way. And out of this, friendships have formed.

‘The dancers that I teach at the club are a lovely, super-keen bunch who have grown in confidence since starting,’ says Tyrell.

‘As they learn the routine they think to themselves “I can do this” and that’s a massive confidence boost.’

Katie agrees: ‘When Hebe masters a move, she feels so proud of herself plus it’s a great form of creative expression too. The Saturday Club overall, with its patient and professional staff, is such a great place for children with SEND.’

With thanks to our funders, the Hampton Fund, The Barnes Fund and Richmond Parish Lands Charity, for enabling the Saturday Club to continue, together with our newly formed 16+ Club. Click here for more information about Crossroad Care’s Saturday Club.