"A lot of these kids like doing things by themselves," said George Moustakas, a camp teacher and therapist. "A talent show brings them together, requires that they work as a team, cooperate, and communicate with each other."
The students are among 30, ages 7 to 14, attending a six-week summer program for children in the Bucks County district who are on the autism spectrum, or who have attention disorders, anxiety, or emotional disruption.
A collaboration with the Delaware Valley Children's Center, which offers mental-health services, the program aims to help campers read social cues and understand others' reactions so they can behave in socially appropriate ways, said teacher and social worker Joy McDonald.
The students work on team projects, and so must listen to one another's ideas, compromise, and come to joint decisions. The lessons range from good sportsmanship and polite behavior to relaxation techniques.
"This is the funnest place," said Deven Kelley, 9, Leila's sister. "I learned how to be respectful, follow directions, and keep your hands to yourself."
In February, Deven was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. For years, she was a loner, avoided eye contact, and rarely played with toys.
"One day she got in the car and started to just shake herself," said the girls' mother, Tara Kelley. "That's when I knew something wasn't right."
The diagnosis was a relief, said Kelley, who has observed her daughters making progress in the summer program.
The camp's culmination is the talent show, Thursday at 10 a.m., for which students spent two weeks in rehearsal, singing, performing skits, drumming, imitating animal noises and angry birds.
They studied scripts and worked together, but not always easily. Some refused to follow instruction or walked away in frustration, Moustakas said.
At the final rehearsal Wednesday, Riley Bogan, 8, sat down on stage to drum to "The Little Drummer Boy." Within seconds, he froze and turned his face away from the audience. Teacher Charles Jagger, kneeling beside him, took his drumsticks and hit the drum for him. Before the song ended, Riley gently took the sticks back from Jagger and began drumming.
"I was embarrassed," Riley said after his performance, "but I got more comfortable at the end and I started playing."
Jonathon Gross performed in a skit based on the Dragon Ball animé series. He did it from a wheelchair, having broken his leg while playing with a friend's dog.
The 8-year-old has an attention disorder. His parents began noticing problems when he was in kindergarten. He wasn't learning and was frustrated, angry, and disruptive, said his father, Charles Gross of Bristol Township.
"He's intelligent and creative, but sometimes his attention is gone. You have to refocus him to stay on task," said Gross, who also has an attention disorder.
Last year, Jonathon did a robot dance in the camp talent show. He rehearsed at home, but the family couldn't laugh while he was performing because Jonathon couldn't tell the difference between laughing at a funny performance and laughing that made fun of him.
This year, he is showing off his dramatic skills by re-creating a scene from the Japanese cartoon.
"I was really proud," the boy said of last year's performance, predicting he'd feel exactly the same this year.
Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or email@example.com.