AUSTIN (KXAN) - "Chloe has a progressive neuropathy, so we've seen her go from achild with an ability to walk to being in a wheelchair."
"Mary Catherine has developmental static encephalopathy."
"Alex has autism; specifically, he has Asperger's syndrome,which is a label for people with Autism who are higherfunctioning."
The mothers rattle off the conditions and syndromes thattraditionally create a wall between the dreams of affected childrenand the possibilities of life on a stage.
"Her biggest challenge is just fitting in," said Mary CatherineMooney's mother, Anna Maria Mooney. "She is so social; she lovespeople and finding a world that will embrace her as she is, is herbiggest challenge. You cannot make kids want to be her friend andhere, when she walks in the door, kids come over and say, 'Hi MaryCatherine! Hey, come over here.' It's just a genuine acceptance ofher. I would say at the end of last year, we were kind of stuck ina rut. School was just not fulfilling her needs. She just wasn'therself, didn't seem happy and I kept thinking, OK, we need to dosomething here."
But Mooney worried about leaving her daughter at rehearsals forhours at a time. She quickly got over that worry, however.
"Immediately, overnight, there was a change in her where shewould wake up in the morning, grab her bag, want to eat, getdressed, put on makeup," said Mooney. "You know, it was like, 'It'stime for KidsActing, let's go!' It was so nice to see her comealive and have a purpose and have something to look forward toevery day."
Dede Clark is the director of KidsActing and she'scommitted to this sort of thing.
"I love kids and I believe that every child out there shouldhave opportunity," she said, a grin spreading across her face.
"Dede has made sure that she's treated like everybody else is,but also sets the bar really high for them, too," said AliceSpanjersberg, the mother of Chloe Spanjersberg, "which Iappreciate, as a parent, because I don't want her just to be giveneverything because she's in a wheelchair; that's not fair either. Iwant her to work hard and I know that Dede has very highexpectations for all the kids that work through KidsActing."
"Alex has a tough time, like a lot of people with autism,connecting with people and with empathy, with understanding someoneelse's reaction to the same situation he finds himself in," saidDiane Beckham, mother of Alex Beckham, who plays a lead role in theKidsActing Summer Musical production of " WakingSleeping Beauty."
Her son knows just what she's talking about.
"In theatre, you basically learn empathy because differentcharacters will see different sides of things and essentially, youstep into another character's shoes," he said.
As a child, the now-17-year-old Alex got plenty of therapy, butsomething was still missing.
"The final piece of the puzzle was having Alex be able to relaxand be himself and be funny and show all the things that he coulddo around peers," his mother said. "And KidsActing really opened upa world for him. It allowed him to perform on stage and dosomething that he's really good at and then also fit in, haveacceptance from friends."
Then there's the matter of chaos.
"Usually, people with Asperger's are far more comfortable athome," Alex said. "In school, out doing things, it could get kindof chaotic and people with Asperger's syndrome do not like chaos;they want a kind of order to their day."
What's amazing is that he could thrive in the midst of the chaosthat often defines KidsActing. Imagine three dozen kids in one roomwith costumes and props to play with.
"But the good thing is it helps me get used to chaos in everydaylife," Alex said, "because when you think about it, it's actuallyfairly orderly in a play. You go through the same lines, the samechoreography, etc."
But what about the rest of the children in the troupe? Do theyget slowed down by the presence of kids with different abilities intheir midst. Not hardly.
"She gives us her smiles and her laughs and she gives us ourenthusiasm for sure," said KidsActing member Lauren Payne, whohelps Mary Catherine with cues and costume changes.
In fact, Lauren thinks she knows why the experiment is workingout so well.
"This group of kids is different," she said, looking around thetheatre at her friends. "Here, these are people who, you know, wehaven't always been accepted in the in-crowd and stuff. These areour people and I mean, every day we come here we are accepting andeverybody has a good smile on their face and everybody's nice toeverybody else and it's just an environment where you can becomfortable with yourself. Nobody is ever going to make fun ofanybody else and so it's just a place where kids like us can comeand be here. People like Mary Catherine and Chloe and everybody, Imean, nobody's different; everybody's alike and everybody's equalhere."
Alex Beckham, fresh off the stage, is beaming.
"Most definitely I'm having fun." he said. "KidsActing is themost wonderful experience of my life."
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside a vehicle after the child's family was involved in a fender bender, DPS said.
Austin Police confirm they have located an 82-year-old women who went missing last night.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.
A representative at the Fayette County Sheriff's office said that Fayette County is effectively shut down due to icy conditions.