Adults with Disabilities Shine in Drama Therapy

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Students in the Drama Therapy class at Arkansas Easterseals are finding all new ways of expressing themselves and bringing out their emotions, thanks to the work of volunteer teacher Peyton Welch. Welch was selected as one of the state’s Community Service Award honorees for 2017.

The road that led him to this calling has been anything but smooth.

Early on, Welch set his sights on show business. His vibrant personality is perfect for a life in the limelight. After graduating from Southern Methodist University, Peyton began his career at the Arkansas Repertory Theater, then moved to Los Angeles to delve deeper into the entertainment industry.  There, for the first time in his life, he experienced what would become the first of many grand mal seizures.

He eventually moved back to Little Rock and his seizures continued to get worse, eventually calling for brain surgery in 2010. Part of Peyton’s left temporal lobe was removed. The seizures lessened, but did not go away.

The toll taken on Peyton began to affect his ongoing personality and outlook on life. But an encounter with Drama therapy opened up a whole new world for him. He began attending conferences, and decided to persue a Master’s degree through Kansas State University. In conjunction with his instructors, Peyton found ways to implement what he was learning in various community organizations, eventually leading him to Easterseals.

“How can I use my history and what I’ve learned overcoming limitations and things like that to work with people with disabilities?” Peyton asked himself, before pitching his idea for a weekly class at the Easterseals Center for Training and Wellness. “I just basically showed up at their door and said, ‘Hey, here’s who I am; this is what I love; this is what I want to do.”

The center, which serves adults with varied levels of disability, has a solid visual art program, but there wasn’t a specific outlet for students for creative emotional expression, said art instructor Laura Kelty-Terry.

One of Payton’s first students, a young man with autism, began to blossom before their eyes through his participation in teh drama therapy class. He went from avoiding eye contact and social connections to participating in the group exercises with enthusiasm.

“I never thought I’d see something that drastic before Peyton came,” Kelty-Terry said.

Peyton is currently working to develop a play with the students, who choose their own plot, characters, and provide the script through improvisational work. This year’s play follows a theme of bullying, and the students opted to throw some Shakespeare into the mix.

Peyton expects to receive his Master’s degree in August, and will accept his Community Service Award on June 2.

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