Dr. Phillips Center Marks Autism Awareness Month By Attaining Certified Autism Center Certification

Only one of two performing arts centers in the nation to receive designation


Dr Phillips Center theatre class

Since its opening, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has developed and provided a host of programs, classes and camps to serve individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now the arts center has taken its passion and work to serve this community to the next level by earning the Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). It is one of only two performing arts centers in the nation to receive this certification.

The designation is awarded to organizations that have completed training courses and are committed to serving individuals with autism and other sensory needs. One hundred and twenty arts center colleagues, including front-of-house, production, security, box office, education and leadership teams, participated in educational training to better understand the needs of individuals with autism and other sensory issues.  In addition to this training, arts center colleagues have also undergone specialized training from the University of Central Florida’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) program.

“This certification reflects our vision of Arts For Every Life®.  We want everyone to enjoy coming to a performance or taking a class, and this new certification ensures that we have the training in place to serve individuals with sensory needs and engage them in all the arts center has to offer,” said Kathy Ramsberger, president and CEO of the Dr. Phillips Center.

Dr Phillips theater group photo

For the past five years, Dr. Phillips Center has developed and offered sensory-friendly shows, theater classes and camps, which include:

  • Pilobolous@Play, a week-long residency where middle and high schoolers with autism create a dance with artists from the Pilobolus dance company and then perform the piece in an evening show on stage in the Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater;
  • A special engagement with The Second City, which offers a specialized improvisation workshop for individuals on the autism spectrum during their week-long residency for pre-professional actors, supported by donors Kathie and Bill Hohns;
  • and Inclusion acting classes for students ages eight to 12 on the autism spectrum.

Guests and caregivers can also access a guide and video on the center’s website to help individuals with autism and sensory issues prepare for seeing a show. The video was produced by Dr. Phillips Center and features local students from Access Charter School, a middle and high school program for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Henry Bass, Karen Rugerio smiling togetherAlso, in 2019, the arts center hired Henry Bass, a 24-year-old with autism who has been an active participant in the center’s programs, camps and performances, as its ‘Arts For Every Life® Ambassador.’  “Our education team worked with Henry’s vocational coaches to develop a wonderful role for him at Dr. Phillips Center,” said Ramsberger. “He has a gift for engaging people and making them feel connected to the arts. He serves as a greeter for our classes and an onstage host for student performances. We’re proud to be part of his growth, seeing him transition from a student to a colleague who contributes his abilities.”

For over 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism certification for healthcare, education and corporate professionals around the globe. IBCCES recognized that many families with children who have special needs have limited options. In response to this need, IBCCES created training and certification programs specifically for the hospitality and attractions industry. IBCCES is the only credentialing organization providing this type of certification, which includes evidence-based information as well as the perspectives of individuals with autism, alongside other tools and resources such as onsite reviews and customized recommendations to ensure the program is a long-term commitment and has a lasting impact.

“Dr. Phillips Center has clearly demonstrated its commitment and passion to serve individuals with autism and sensory sensitivities,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman.  “We applaud their work in this arena, and we are proud to work with them and celebrate this significant achievement.”

For more information about programs and classes, including sensory friendly classes, contact Dr. Phillips Center at classes@drphillipscenter.org. 

About Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization operating the state-of-the-art performing arts center in downtown Orlando, Fla. With its opening in November 2014, the arts center has become a gathering place for creativity and discovery, and a vibrant urban destination where artists, audiences and students come to experience, explore and learn. The two-block community destination features the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater, 300-seat Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, Seneff Arts Plaza, AdventHealth School of the Arts, the DeVos Family Room and other event rental spaces. Under construction is Steinmetz Hall, a 1,700-seat acoustical theater, along with rehearsal, classroom, office space and commercial development spaces. Dr. Phillips Center collaborates with the City of Orlando, Orange County, the City of Winter Park, the State of Florida and generous donors.

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