My Milestones – Wendy Duke, 2018 Conference Speaker & Exhibitor

Meet Wendy Duke of Theatre on the Spectrum and Center for Applied Drama and Autism. As a Milestones conference veteran, Wendy knows all the ins and outs of being an exhibitor. She’s also presenting this year! Learn more about Wendy and get the inside scoop on taking on the exhibit hall like a pro.

So tell me a little bit about yourself and the Center for Applied Drama and Autism (CADA)?
Laura Valendza and I are co-founders of the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, a non-profit located in Akron, OH. We were both teaching at Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts and began working on some ideas to help our students with autism use drama to develop confidence and to build social skills. Over the past six years, we have developed a Saturday youth program featuring classes for ages eight to 18 and a youth theatre company. Last year, we began a day theatre company for adults with disabilities in collaboration with Ardmore Inc., a local service provider.

What drove you to create your organization?
We noticed that many young people with autism were attracted to drama. We realized that the theatre provides a safe space to have fun and make friends while playing games and acting in roles that help empower our students in real life.

You’re also the program director for Theatre on the Spectrum. What is the most rewarding aspect of your position?
Each individual who has applied to join our theatre company has the same thing in common: the need to perform and the lack of an opportunity to do so, due to a society that has not encouraged them to step on stage or in front of a camera. You might say I changed careers from working with gifted students to working with students whose gifts were never recognized.

You’ve returned to the Milestones Autism Conference time and time again. What makes you come back every year?
I began attending knowing so little about autism and I come back because I learn something new every year! Each year, I take home piles of notes from the presentations along with books purchased from the fabulous vendors in the exhibition hall. In the past years, I hoped to see someone present on drama and autism, but alas — nothing!  So eventually, Laura and I submitted a proposal and we were accepted! This year will be CADA’s third presentation at Milestones.

What insight would you give to other autism organizations and service providers who haven’t attended the conference?
First off, there is so much to see and so many presentations to attend that you will want to wear some sensible shoes! The presenters are always ready to answer your questions. Take time to have a cup of coffee and make friends with other people attending the conference. I have found that people are very willing to share ideas and resources.

The exhibitor hall can be kind of overwhelming at first. So many vendors! What advice would you give to parents attending the conference for the first time looking for new resources?
It is an enormous space with lots of different vendors. I would suggest not trying to get through it all at once. There are breaks between sessions, so try to do a bit at a time. I like to start at one end and work my way systematically up and down the aisles. I look at the book tables several times before making my purchase decisions!

We can’t wait to have you back this year! What are you most excited about in terms of being a presenter?
This year, one of our company members, Samir Hammoud will be my co-presenter. Samir has wanted to be an actor since a very young age. He began in our youth program and last year graduated to our adult company. We will be presenting during the Friday Professionals Luncheon and hope to get some of the attendees to join us in some improvisations! This picture is when Samir and I found out our Milestones presentation had been accepted!

 


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