Maryville, IL — For the past four years, Turning Point Academy of Dance in Maryville has offered classes for children with special needs, including autism and down syndrome. Owner and director Dianna Andrews Gaither said working with children with special needs has been a longtime goal.

“I've always wanted Turning Point to be more than just a dance studio, said Gaither. “They're just kids. And so, you find how to relate to them and that's what's so wonderful about what Kristin and I are able to do.”

Gaither works with Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville dance instructor Kristin Kinscherff.

Thursday, Gaither and Kirscherff taught students between the ages of 6 and 17, getting them ready for a Saturday 2 p.m. performance of “The Nutcracker” at SIUE.

This version of the annual holiday classic is geared specifically for children with autism and other special needs. The performance is sensory friendly for children on the autism spectrum who often have issues with light and noise sensitivity.

“That means that the music will be turned down a little bit and not be as loud. There will not be as many lights that are going on in the theater. There won't be as many light changes,” said Gaither. “So, for us to produce something that sensory friendly, that it's a shortened version and they're free to be themselves if they want to clap in the middle of the show and say ‘good job’ or just being able to be themselves completely in the theater and parents knowing that it's okay for their kids to just be themselves.”

Proceeds go toward Fighting for autism, and scholarships for SIUE theater and dance students.

If you plan to attend with your child, you may want to check out this video to learn an audience follow-along dance at the beginning of “The Nutcracker” performance.