Special Needs Musical Theater and The Nutcracker

One thing I really appreciate about our recent move is that there are far more opportunities for Ryan. Our town has an Adaptive Recreation program. For a small fee you can enroll your kids with special needs in adaptive ballet/musical theater, adaptive tennis, a social skills group, or a hang-out-with-other-kids-like-you session. 

I signed Ryan up for Musical Theater, partly because I thought he would like it, and partly because being in musicals was the focus of my entire childhood. I was in or behind at least 2 shows a year from ages 5-21, and then I continued my behind-the-scenes theater career until Ryan was born. Everything I’ve ever needed to know I learned in theater: discipline; structure; the importance of practice; history; body awareness; public speaking; empathy; spacial awareness; storytelling; cooperation; tolerance; professionalism; responsibility; community; a sense of purpose.

So I signed Ryan up for Adaptive Musical Theater, which merged with Adaptive Ballet. The group will be performing its third annual Adaptive Nutcracker. I’m not a big fan of The Nutcracker, or of ballet in general, but I’m a big fan of this production. The steps are simple and poorly executed, and Clara has never been less graceful, but I’m thrilled that Ryan is involved.


Ryan is the youngest of the kids, by a lot – he’s a full head shorter than anyone else involved. The rest of the kids are 12-18, and have all been involved with The Nutcracker for years. I don’t know what their specific diagnoses are – some seem autistic, one shows signs of hyperactivity, there’s a boy in a wheelchair, another who maybe has some sort of chromosomal thing going on (along with hyper flexibility), and some just seem Not Quite Right.

The group is lead by a retired ballerina and a gaggle of perky neurotypical high school-age girls from the New England Ballet. These girls act as mentors for the special needs kids, gently reminding them of the choreography and keeping them on task.

And if one of the dancers suddenly freaks out, everyone understands.

And if someone on the sidelines is giggling uncontrollably, that’s ok.

And if the Mouse King needs a para on stage with him in the battle scene, the para gets his own sword and no one bats an eye.

Ryan seems to be having a wonderful time being a soldier. He may not do all the steps properly or at the right time, but his joy is contagious. And he’s the baby of the group, so he gets extra attention from everyone.

I sit with the other moms and marvel that their kids, who have been dancing in this group together for a few years, are truly friends. They cheer for each other, treat each other respectfully regardless of ability, and hug each other goodbye.

It’s an environment where everyone truly Understands.

I have a feeling we’ll be sticking around.

TheRyanFiles on Facebook
Meredith Zolty
My kid is great! And he has PDD-NOS and ADHD (e-i-e-i-o). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Watch us navigate the world of neurodiversity at
Meredith Zolty


My kid is great! And he has PDD-NOS and ADHD (e-i-e-i-o). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Watch us navigate the world of neurodiversity at

0 thoughts on “Special Needs Musical Theater and The Nutcracker

  • Janice

    That “chromosomal thing going on (along with hyper flexibility)” is Down syndrome. Throw in a good dose of autism (which is rampant in the Down syndrome population, roughly 10x the rate in the general population), and you just described my son. He’s one of the older members of the cast. This is his 5th year in this program, his 4th in the ballet portion, and his third performing in the Nutcracker. It’s impossible to say too many good things about this program; it’s fabulous! I’m so glad you and Ryan found it, and I hope he will be joining us for Musical Theater in the spring.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *