Our goal is to meet our students where they are now, and without coercion, help them to recognize their own abilities and gifts through empowerment and making connections. We do not wish to change the uniqueness of each student, but rather help each one handle social and emotional situations that will occur throughout their lives.  

We do this via individual and collaborative applied drama techniques such as theatre games, improvisation, role play, character study, voice and body work, mask work (commedia dell'arte), and Play Back Theatre.  Additionally, we encourage creativity and originality through student created puppet plays, playwriting and video production.  Visual art, dance and music are all key components in theatrical productions and give our students an opportunity to expand their artistic gifts and interests.

Throughout history, drama/theatre has not only been used to entertain, but also to create personal, emotional, and social awareness.  Play (or "The Work," as we actors call it) is in itself an act of self discovery.  How we move, speak, feel, connect, and act as a character draws on our understanding of ourselves and how we fit into the world around us.  We can explore situations that frighten us through the safety of play-acting.  We can become a different person who is confident and empowered, enabling us to face situations that baffle us.  With time, we begin to realize these characters come from us.  It can be through this realization that we develop the skill to enact situations for the stage and for real life. 

The latest research in brain development in autistic people suggests that mirror neurons can serve to connect observations and actions, providing an intrinsic sense of self and other, a sense that is often overloaded or weak and unstable in persons with autism. Drama techniques may build and strengthen neural pathways: 

Laura and Wendy are particularly grateful for the work of Lee R Chasen, a drama therapist and co-founder of Kid Esteem School in Long Island, NY. We have discovered great insights within both his books and have incorporated a number of his discoveries and techniques within our own work.  Our other influences/teachers include (but are not limited to):  Viola Spolin, Augusto Boal, ​ Leonard Pitt, Faction of Fools, Chicago dell'Arte, Gale McNeely, James Slowiak & Jairo Cuesta of New World Performance Lab.​

We thank James Slowiak and The Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture who provided us with a temporary home at the Balch Street Theatre and for providing fiduciary oversight as we worked toward obtaining our own non-profit status. As of July 14, 2017, we are a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.   Since teh onset of the Covid19 pandemic, we have created new online programming to meet the needs of youth and adults on the spectrum and their families within the greater Akron community and beyond!  Our studens now may join us from anywhere there is a wifi connection. We are proud to be serving people from as far away as Forida, Long Island, Missouri, and India! 

We would also like to thank Melanie Y.C. Pepe, educational director at Weathervane Playhouse, who gave us the opportunity to develop our first workshop:  "All the World's a Stage for Kids on the Spectrum."  

Most of all, we are grateful to our students, past and present, who continue to inspire us as we discover the joy in playing silly games and creating funny characters together.

The Center for 
Applied Drama and Autism

Mailing Address:
PO Box 2972
Akron, OH 44309
1(866) 844-8327

For information and registration, please email us at

Wendy Duke, Founder & Co-Director

Laura Valendza, Founder & Co-Director

Zoom rehearsal

About Us
CADA Philosophy:
Founding Members:
Laura Valendza is an actor and an intervention specialist at Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts. Laura is a member of the North American Drama Therapy Association.

Wendy S Duke has been teaching drama for over 40 years for people of all ages and abilities. She created the drama program at Miller South School for the Visual & Performing Arts in Akron, OH, leaving that job in June of 2015 to work full time with CADA. 
Above:  Youth and Adult company members rehearsing in Zoom!
Our Teaching Staff

Laura Valendza
Wendy Duke
Ruben Ryan
Jordan Euell
Brandon Meeker
Dean Coutris
Shannon Uphold
Eve Urban
Molly Wetzel
John Lynch
Mikaia Ross
Bhawna Sudhir

Our Acting Company:

Amanda Bugenske
Jake Dietz
Sean Giannetti
Samir Hammoud
Scott Hudson
Sid Kranz
John Lynch
Jordan Euell
Ruban Ryan
JT Styles
Joseph Moran

Co-star Emeritus

Bree Chambers
Mikaia Ross
John Welsh
Logan Benninghoff
Colin Moore

CADA logo
Contact Us
Below:  Adult company performing a tribute to the ADA using the music of Jeff Moyer, disability rights activist 
and bard of the movement!
CADA in the Media:
Artist Mac Love brought together Akron area artists to create a unique deck of playing cards with an Akron focus. We are excited to share that Theatre on the Spectrum is represented as the five of diamonds! We submitted a photo of some of our actors posing at Schneider Park, which is the source of inspiration for our upcoming project "Along the Graveyard Path (A History of Disability). Cards can be purchased at Akron on Deck's web site. The cards may also be purchased at: Sand Run Pharmacy, Zeber-Martell Gallery and Clay Studio, Smile Inside in Downtown Akron, and Artisan Coffee (East) on Canton Road.