AUSTIN (KXAN) - "Chloe has a progressive neuropathy, so we've seen her go from a child with an ability to walk to being in a wheelchair."
"Mary Catherine has developmental static encephalopathy."
"Alex has autism; specifically, he has Asperger's syndrome, which is a label for people with Autism who are higher functioning."
The mothers rattle off the conditions and syndromes that traditionally create a wall between the dreams of affected children and the possibilities of life on a stage.
"Her biggest challenge is just fitting in," said Mary Catherine Mooney's mother, Anna Maria Mooney. "She is so social; she loves people and finding a world that will embrace her as she is, is her biggest challenge. You cannot make kids want to be her friend and here, when she walks in the door, kids come over and say, 'Hi Mary Catherine! Hey, come over here.' It's just a genuine acceptance of her. I would say at the end of last year, we were kind of stuck in a rut. School was just not fulfilling her needs. She just wasn't herself, didn't seem happy and I kept thinking, OK, we need to do something here."
But Mooney worried about leaving her daughter at rehearsals for hours at a time. She quickly got over that worry, however.
"Immediately, overnight, there was a change in her where she would wake up in the morning, grab her bag, want to eat, get dressed, put on makeup," said Mooney. "You know, it was like, 'It's time for KidsActing, let's go!' It was so nice to see her come alive and have a purpose and have something to look forward to every day."
Dede Clark is the director of KidsActing and she's committed to this sort of thing.
"I love kids and I believe that every child out there should have opportunity," she said, a grin spreading across her face.
"Dede has made sure that she's treated like everybody else is, but also sets the bar really high for them, too," said Alice Spanjersberg, the mother of Chloe Spanjersberg, "which I appreciate, as a parent, because I don't want her just to be given everything because she's in a wheelchair; that's not fair either. I want her to work hard and I know that Dede has very high expectations for all the kids that work through KidsActing."
"Alex has a tough time, like a lot of people with autism, connecting with people and with empathy, with understanding someone else's reaction to the same situation he finds himself in," said Diane Beckham, mother of Alex Beckham, who plays a lead role in the KidsActing Summer Musical production of " Waking Sleeping Beauty ."
Her son knows just what she's talking about.
"In theatre, you basically learn empathy because different characters will see different sides of things and essentially, you step into another character's shoes," he said.
As a child, the now-17-year-old Alex got plenty of therapy, but something was still missing.
"The final piece of the puzzle was having Alex be able to relax and be himself and be funny and show all the things that he could do around peers," his mother said. "And KidsActing really opened up a world for him. It allowed him to perform on stage and do something that he's really good at and then also fit in, have acceptance from friends."
Then there's the matter of chaos.
"Usually, people with Asperger's are far more comfortable at home," Alex said. "In school, out doing things, it could get kind of chaotic and people with Asperger's syndrome do not like chaos; they want a kind of order to their day."
What's amazing is that he could thrive in the midst of the chaos that often defines KidsActing. Imagine three dozen kids in one room with costumes and props to play with.
"But the good thing is it helps me get used to chaos in everyday life," Alex said, "because when you think about it, it's actually fairly orderly in a play. You go through the same lines, the same choreography, etc."
But what about the rest of the children in the troupe? Do they get slowed down by the presence of kids with different abilities in their midst. Not hardly.
"She gives us her smiles and her laughs and she gives us our enthusiasm for sure," said KidsActing member Lauren Payne, who helps Mary Catherine with cues and costume changes.
In fact, Lauren thinks she knows why the experiment is working out so well.
"This group of kids is different," she said, looking around the theatre at her friends. "Here, these are people who, you know, we haven't always been accepted in the in-crowd and stuff. These are our people and I mean, every day we come here we are accepting and everybody has a good smile on their face and everybody's nice to everybody else and it's just an environment where you can be comfortable with yourself. Nobody is ever going to make fun of anybody else and so it's just a place where kids like us can come and be here. People like Mary Catherine and Chloe and everybody, I mean, nobody's different; everybody's alike and everybody's equal here."
Alex Beckham, fresh off the stage, is beaming.
"Most definitely I'm having fun." he said. "KidsActing