Arts Adventures: Inclusive Art Programming for Students with Autism

Arts Adventures collage

Arts for Learning Virginia (A4L) has a long history of serving the children and families of Virginia, providing arts-integrated literacy programs that help pre-K to 12th grade students build academic and social-emotional skills. We are the leading provider of quality arts-in-education programming in the state, motivated by a firm belief that the creativity and critical thinking gained by exposure to the arts are essential aspects to a child’s development.

We prioritize underserved populations, which includes students with intellectual and physical disabilities. As part of our commitment to serving these students, we are delighted to partner with Families of Autistic Children of Tidewater (FACT) in a three-year program called “Arts Adventures.” The twelve-week residency is designed to provide adaptive arts education in a safe and supportive after-school environment to middle and high school students with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Lessons are completely free to the fifteen participants, with priority registration given to historically marginalized populations and to students whose families cannot afford extracurricular arts education.

The second year of Arts Adventures, launched in September 2022, focuses on music, with students exploring themes related to communication, teamwork, and self-worth in a peer-to-peer environment. The residency will culminate in a “perform and inform” event for students to share with family and friends. The third year of the program will focus on visual arts. The A4L teaching artists who lead the classes are all professional artists, skilled in their art forms, who have a teaching style well-suited to working with neuro-diverse students.

In 2021, Arts Adventures focused on creative movement and dance for youth with autism. The program received excellent feedback from both student participants and parents.

“We’ve signed up for so many things—we’ve paid for so many things that I have to drag him to, but he wants to go, which is the first time ever,” said Kara Rothman, mother of 13-year-old Jesse. “For me, it was huge because I’ve taken him to so many different places where I have to preface who we are and his quirks, and at Arts Adventures he’s allowed to be quirky. It’s okay. In other places he has to be quiet or follow directions—it’s very structured—and he was always getting kicked out of stuff. Nothing ever worked, ever. Every time I’m just so grateful that he wants to be there.”

Jesse said it was more “fun, interactive, and entertaining” than other programs he’d tried. “I’m not really forced to do anything. If I say I don’t want to do something, it’s not like I have to do it. But I usually like doing the stuff and it’s fun.”

In addition to students with intellectual and physical disabilities, Arts for Learning prioritizes services to underserved students, such as those enrolled in Title 1 schools and military-connected students who may require additional resources while their parents are deployed otherwise serving our country. Our artists—professional musicians, dancers, storytellers, and more—use their art forms as teaching tools, helping to reach learners who struggle with traditional methods of teaching.

Your generous donation to Young Audiences of Virginia, Arts for Learning, will allow us to continue to provide meaningful arts education at no cost to students in Virginia. As we work to fulfill our mission to inspire and engage students in and through the arts, we are grateful for our supporters who understand that art is central to a well-rounded education and who help ensure that our programming is accessible to all, regardless of social, physical, economic, or cultural barriers. Thank you!

Charity Name
Young Audiences of Virginia, Inc., doing business as Arts for Learning
Photo Caption
Arts Adventure participants enjoy creative dance in a supportive peer-to-peer environment.
Photo Credit
A4L photographers