Social skills, improvised.


When Jaime Conroy first envisioned what would become Step Right Up, her studio for special needs kids on Waverly Green Alley, she thought of her son Jackson. He's a seventh grader who has high-functioning Autism and has ADHD among other challenges. He also has a often-present very winning smile and a talent for the amusing adolescent-level gaffe, like when he was caught Googling psychedelic experiences and peyote after watching "Beavis and Butthead Do America" with his dad,  Jim  Conroy. Which is not surprising, given that his family includes Jim (or as I like to call him, The Voice of Ruff Ruffman) who is currently being underutilized on the back of your Time Magazine in a TD Bank ad. And his sister Ella,  who will be in "Shreck" at the Mayo Performing Arts Center this weekend (and I always seem tune in just as she steals her scene with Allison Brie in that movie "How to be Single.") But this is about his equally amazing mom, Jaime, who wanted a place where Jackson could flex his improv muscle or learn to do voiceovers or comedy and gain some social skills along the way.

Step Right Up is just that. Developed with special education professionals, industry professionals, speech and occupational therapists, their course schedule is the complete package. The studio offers classes in musical theater, performing arts, voiceovers, stand-up comedy and yoga as well as their cornerstone class Improv for Social Skills.

"The improv classes are just regular improv exercises that you would see at any improv show or take at any improv class," said Jaime. "We've just hand selected the ones that fit our needs to help the social skills. So that's picking up non-verbal cues and understanding body language, reading emotions, understanding that others have different emotions than you have at any given time. Being able to participate as part of a team."

The classes are for kids with special needs -- those on the Autism spectrum and those with other challenges as well. Jaime said  this is for any kid who doesn't have the confidence or skill to take a class at a regular studio. She recalled a time when a student came in to a class and turned around and walked out of the room.

"Her mom said, 'That's for every time she tried a class and it didn't work," said Jaime. "That's the story -- these kids who have tried anything where it's creative or expressive or it's not academic or so structured and they know they won't be successful at it. To have a place where they can come and know that they are going to be successful is worth it's weight in gold for the parents and the kids."

It worked out for the student who left the room, because Step Right Up is set up for kids to succeed. Kids are offered a free class first to see if they like it, are advised to come early so they aren't walking into a room of people who already know each other. If a student needs a little extra attention, they may get a shadow. As a mom of a special needs kid herself, Jaime's invested in making it work for each student.

In the near future, Step Right Up will introduce some parent-friendly programming, like speakers and host movie night dropoff/babysitting evenings. Long range, Jaime hopes to set up some non-profit programming, like school visits and a scholarship program.

If you think your kid is right for Step Right Up, check their website out and see how they help kids to find their voice.