February 28, 2020

Elaine Hall: Connecting With Autistic Kids Through the Arts

Elaine Hall’s life was forever altered in 1996 when her son, Neal, then 2, was diagnosed with autism shortly after she adopted him from an orphanage in Russia. When traditional therapy didn’t work for Neal, who is nonverbal, Hall decided to become part of his autistic world through her skills as an acting coach. She also incorporated music and movement.

“I started training others on how to join my son’s world,” Hall said, “and bit by bit, using creativity, he merged into our world.”

When the time came for Hall to return to work, she applied for a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, which enabled her to launch The Miracle Project in 2004, an organization that offers children, teens and adults with and without autism to take part in theater productions and art programs.

“The arts are a great equalizer,” Hall said. “We create a dynamic community where everyone belongs so that we have those with and without disability joining and understanding the autistic world.” 

The Miracle Project creates original plays and performs them in schools and synagogues throughout Los Angeles. One such production, “The Intimidation Game,” in 2016, dealt with bullying.

“One of our students came to class one day and she had been bullied,” Hall said. “I asked the entire class if anyone had ever been bullied. And everyone, from the kids with autism to the co-actors who are presidents of their class in their private school, shared that they had been bullied. And we took this information and created an original musical.”

The production delves into what drives people to bully and how those being bullied can find true friends who will stand with them.

“The ultimate message is being true to yourself and finding friends who support you for who you really are and allowing yourself to be supported,” Hall said.

“We have children who have never spoken say their first words in our classes. We have teens and young adults who have never had a friend start to have an active social life.”

The Miracle Project’s latest production is “The Influencer,” about a family moving from the Midwest to the city, where they learn about how corporations, social media and peer pressure influence them. The family in turn learns how they can influence society. The play will be performed from June 11-14 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

Hall said that the caring and supportive climate fostered in The Miracle Project enables people’s true selves to emerge.

“We have children who have never spoken say their first words in our classes,” she said. “We have teens and young adults who have never had a friend start to have an active social life. We have young adults who are so reserved start to burst forth with creativity and write music and share ideas and create original shows.”

Several students in The Miracle Project have gone on to have roles in shows including Netflix’s “Atypical” and ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and “Speechless.” Neal, now 25, lives independently with support and has presented with Hall at the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day program.

Said Hall, “I feel so proud and so blessed to be able to witness these children, these teens, these young adults and their families not only realize their dreams, but realize dreams they never even dared to dream come true.”

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