Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

SENSE Theatre

SENSE Theatre is a 2-week day camp for youth, 7-18 years of age, with and without autism spectrum disorders. This is not a residential camp.

For summer 2014

Due to overwhelming response for this program we are not able to enroll additional children in the 2014 SENSE Theatre Camp. We look forward to expanding the program next year to accommodate more children.

We invite you to join us for any of the following performances by children currently enrolled in our program:

  • Black Box Theatre at Belmont University on Friday, Mar. 7, and Saturday, Mar. 8, at 7:00 p.m.
  • Fondren Hall on the Scarritt Bennett Campus on Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14, at 7:00 p.m.

To be notified of information regarding the 2015 program, please complete this form.

Kids rehearsing roles for SENSE Theatre

SENSE Theatre Camp Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the goal of the camp?
A: The goal of the camp is to improve the social and emotional functioning and reduce stress in children with autism through using behavioral and theatre techniques. The children with autism are paired with trained typically developing youth actors that serve as expert models of social interaction as well as co-actors on the stage. Youth with and without autism from 7-18 years of age will participate in the camp. The campers’ efforts will culminate in two performances at the end of the two weeks.

Q: Can I sign my child up for the SENSE Theatre Camp?
A: There is an application process for the Camp. For 2014, we have very few of slots available. Applying for Camp does not guarantee you a slot.

Q: Does my child meet the criteria for attending the Camp?
A: Criteria are:

  • An autism spectrum disorder diagnosis
  • Minimum age at time of camp: 7 years Maximum age: 18 years
  • Verbal and able to respond to directions
  • Toilet trained
  • Non-aggressive
    • Q: How much does the Camp cost?
      A: Tuition is $900.

      Q: What if we cannot afford the tuition?
      A: Need-based scholarships are available to those who qualify. These scholarships are for tuition only. If the child does not already have the clothing/shoes required for the performances, the family will be asked to purchase them.

      Scholarships are based on the following criteria:

      Annual family incomeScholarship level
      Less than or equal to $25,000 per yearfull tuition scholarship
      Between $25,001 and $50,000 per year75% tuition scholarship
      Between $50,001 and $75,000 per year50% tuition scholarship
      Between $75,001 and $100,000 per year25% tuition scholarship

      Supporting documentation, typically the previous year’s tax return, is required for the scholarship application.

      Q: When will applications be available?
      A: Applications are typically available in March. You will automatically receive an application (and updates on the camp) if you are on the notification list. To join the notification list, fill out this form. Again, as a reminder, for 2014 we have very few slots available.

      Q: If my child participated in a previous SENSE Theatre program, can we apply again?
      A: Priority is given to new applicants, particularly children who are participating in our Winter Intervention Program. The likelihood of the acceptance of a return camper is very low. Peer campers are welcome to return each summer.

      Q: My child with autism has a typically developing sibling. Can I enroll the sibling as a peer camper?
      A: The SENSE Theatre Summer Camp model pairs the campers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) with unfamiliar, highly-trained typically developing peers. In our model, we teach the peers to engage the ASD camper using behavioral and theatre techniques in the process of learning a play. As such, we do not enroll siblings of campers because one of our primary goals is to allow the child with ASD to interact with novel peers to provide an opportunity to learn new skills and develop friendships.

      Q: What are the Camp primary activities?
      A: The campers participate in daily physical and vocal exercises, theatre games, role playing, improvisation, singing and more. These skills and activities are then translated into scenes as part of a play. Singing is, therefore, a requirement for participation. In addition, campers are expected to watch and practice videos of roles and scenes from home that are placed on a password protected website. This allows them to improve their learning and have fun practicing their parts from home too.

      Q: What are the Camp hours?
      A: Camp takes place in the afternoons Monday-Friday for two weeks. Peer campers are asked to participate in training the week before camp. The Thursday and Friday of the final week may have extended camp hours due to the need for longer rehearsals.

      Q: Can I stay with my child during Camp?
      A: Since one of the primary goals of SENSE Theatre is to help children to engage in social interaction with their peers, we ask that parents allow their children to attend camp on their own. This gives the child every opportunity to develop new friendships and to practice their developing social skills with supportive peers. However, parents are most welcome to attend the theater performances on Friday and Saturday!

      Q: What does the research aspect of the camp look like?

      Time Point Activity Duration of Activity Location
      Pre-Camp Activities
      (1 month before camp)
      Parent Questionnaires 30 minutes Home
      Pre-Camp Assessment 2 hours Village at Vanderbilt Clinic
      Cortisol Home Sampling 2 minutes per sample
      (4 samples/day for 3 days)
      Peer Interaction 1 hour Playground
      ERP Tasks 1 hour Kennedy Center
      Camp Afternoon Camp Sessions 4 hours per session/
      2 weeks
      Saratt Cinema
      Performance 2 hours per performance Saratt Cinema
      Post-Camp Activities
      (1 month after camp)
      Parent Questionnaires 30 minutes Home
      Post-Camp Assessment 2 hours Village at Vanderbilt Clinic
      Cortisol Home Sampling 2 minutes per sample
      (4 samples/day for 3 days)
      Peer Interaction 1 hour Playground
      ERP Tasks 1 hour Kennedy Center
      (3 months after camp) Follow-Up Questionnaires 30 minutes Home

      Q: What is salivary cortisol sampling?
      A: Saliva sampling allows us to study the daily regulation of a stress hormone called cortisol. Your child will be asked to provide saliva samples at home four times during the day (at approximately 8:00 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.) for three consecutive days (e.g., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday). A total of 24 saliva samples (12 at the beginning of the treatment and 12 at the end of the treatment) will be collected by you in your home (training provided).

      Q: What is ERP research?
      A: ERP stands for event-related potential, which is a measured brain response to either an internal or external event. In other words, it is a measured brain response that is the result of a thought, perception or action. Testing will involve recording your child's brain waves using soft sensors placed on your child's head. These sensors are arranged like a shower cap. Once the net is in place, your child will look at pictures on a computer screen. To learn more, please visit: The ERP Topic Page

      More information about Sense Theatre

Information about Peer Campers

Typically developing children will serve as peer models for children with autism, modeling appropriate social and emotional behavior. SENSE Theatre peers must complete a three day pre-program training. You will learn specific skills to successfully work with children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. The intervention program includes rehearsals, therapeutic practice sessions and theatre rehearsals that will culminate in a performance of a musical. The performances will take place over two weekend evenings. The practice and rehearsals will involve working with a psychologist, a theatre director and fellow cast members. The practice/rehearsal sessions will involve learning about understanding and expressing emotions, speaking and using gestures in new ways, and imitating other people’s behavior. During various practices and during the performances, you may will be videotaped while performing. The videotapes will be used for coding behavioral responses and to show to children with autism to assist them in the intervention process.

There is no cost for peer campers to attend camp. Applications for peer campers will be available in mid-March. Applications are e-mailed to those who are on our notification list. To be added to our notification list, please complete this form.

Application Details

If you have questions regarding summer programs, please contact Laura McLeod at 615.343.5322 or

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