Classes teach kids with autism how to dance

Classes teach kids with autism how to dance - A person standing in front of a piano - Performance art
The recent ReMARCable Dance team worked with Dance Key West, creating a full recital at The Studios of Key West. Here is TJ Ham showing his moves. JOHNNY WHITE/Contributed

According to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of 59 children ages 8-11 place somewhere on the Autism spectrum. The data was taken from 2014 school records and was up from 1 in 68 two years previous; so imagine the number for 2019? Autism is now a common parental topic, making coping as a community even more of a priority.

Dance Key West, founded by Kyla Piscopink, has taken the initiative to offer Autism Movement Therapy (AMT) for children ages 7-12 anywhere on the spectrum. It’s a dance class just for kids who may not have a lot of opportunities to participate in extracurricular sports or activities. AMT combines movement, music and improvisation to stimulate both sides of the brain. It wakes up the mind and improves behavioral, emotional, academic, social, speech and language skills. With limited resources due to demographics, programs and classes helping families and kids are not only welcome but more than needed. 

“We all have a family member or friend, someone we know with children affected by autism,” said Piscopink. “Parents struggle. We want to fill the void, offer dance and the joy of self-expression, make opportunities available.” Piscopink has worked with the MARC House program and has made it a part of Dance Key West’s fundamental ideology to open up dance to everyone. Developing the class was easy, as the Key West Theater, their home, had been floating the idea for a while and the teacher was equally easy to find – Cricket Desmarais. 

“Don’t be afraid; there are no expectations,” said Desmarais, who is not only a dancer and yoga instructor but also the mother of an autistic child. “The hardest part is the social aspect, but it’s important too.” Desmarais is compassionate about the fact that each child reacts differently in group settings; she has experienced it herself as a parent. She wants potential parents and students to know it’s okay; whatever happens happens in her class.

“Parents are eager but also overwhelmed. Dance is a great tool regardless of ability. It’s about showing up, having fun and finding out what’s possible, and that’s empowerment.” With years of dance experience, Desmarais still became AMT trained for the program.

“Dance and music create pathways in the brain, rewire it and use the whole brain. The movements are structured and have purpose. Having my child listen to music and dance, I am still learning about this, but I see the difference,” she said.

“We want to let parents know, you’re safe here; it’s so much more than a class. We are all in this together,” said Piscopink. 

The first classes will be offered April 19-May 17 for $18 per 45-minute session, parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals welcome. Piscopink and Desmarais will be looking to expand classes as well as find additional funding to reduce the costs of the courses through grants and donations to help local families. Other organizations that offer help and will be promoting the classes are Autism Society in the Keys (ASK) ( and Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD) (


Autism Movement Therapy
4:15 to 5 p.m. Fridays,
April 19- May 17

Hays Blinckmann is an oil painter, author of the novel “In The Salt,” lover of all things German including husband, children and Bundesliga. She spends her free time developing a font for sarcasm, testing foreign wines and failing miserably at home cooking.