Jessi Reed, Advocacy and “Spectrum, the Musical”

Theatre Education major Jessi Reed tackles advocacy for all on the autism spectrum through her very own show “Spectrum, the Musical.”

“This show is ultimately an advocacy piece to help shine a light on autism Spectrum Disorder and those many, amazing people who are on the spectrum,” said Jessi Reed, a senior theatre education major at Piedmont University. “People should not be labeled as their disability. That is only a part of them; it is not who they are. We all have strengths and challenges in life.”

On April 14, Reed presented her musical at the Piedmont Symposium. Inspired by her son, who has autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Reed gave a very passionate and knowledgeable presentation to her peers. As defined by the Center for Disease Control, “ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” Reed explained her teaching process centered around her musical and how she incorporated the process of explaining autism to students into her curriculum.

“I think that my students have learned more about ASD through this experience,” said Reed. “They have had to think about the many different kinds of people who are on the spectrum. The spectrum is so wide, and people with autism can grow, change, and move to where they are on the scale.”

Reed explained how many of her students have close connections to someone who has ASD, whether it be siblings, cousins, or the student themselves. “Most of them already knew what autism Spectrum Disorder was, so that was helpful to them learning more about the disorder and the characteristics and symptoms of ASD,” said Reed. Reed taught this lesson to her advanced drama class as part of her current educational internship with White County High School. Her work has impressed her adviser.

“I really liked for the students, for the high school students, how she packaged it in terms of advocacy,” said Dr. Kathy Blandin, associate professor of theatre. “And how theatre is to educate and entertain and that education can take the form of advocacy.” 

While working with her students, Reed kept open communication between herself and the class to ensure everyone understood their work. Through discussions and class projects, Reed worked with the students on the idea of advocacy. Advocacy not only within the world of theatre but in everyday life as well. “We spent a couple days learning more about autism in-depth, watching videos about autism, and experience autism video simulations,” said Reed. “I based some of the main characters and their characteristics on real people with autism, so we watched videos about these people. One of the characters are based on my son and our story, so I told them about our personal experiences. I was surprised when these students embraced the story and the content.”

“It was a very powerful message,” said Jordan Hicks, a fellow theatre major and an attendee at Reed’s presentation. “I think advocacy is one of the most important elements of theatre as you are giving a voice to those who are being silenced. And after Jessi’s presentation, I feel as though there needs to be even more of it happening.” 

Reed plans on continuing with her process of putting on her show with her current class. However, even after Reed leaves once the semester ends, her students will continue workshopping her work and are currently considering it to be their one-act play competition piece for next year. “I’d like to do a review session with the students once this unit is over to hear what they have learned through this experience,” said Reed. “I’d also like to invite a few of my friends who are mothers of children with autism to get their feedback, as well. Any advice that people affected by autism can give will be helpful to the future development of the show.”

As Reed finished out her presentation, she left the audience with a famous saying to remember as they went about their day saying, 

 “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

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