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Young actor on spectrum uses theatre to combat social anxiety

Jesse Niswanger, 17, who will play Grandpa Joe in the upcoming production was diagnosed at 3-years-old with what was formally referred to as Asperger syndrome.

In 2013, it became part of one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Along with the Aspergers and being on the spectrum. I have severe social anxiety. I have ADHD and interaction with people it’s hard,” says Jesse.

The young thespian’s journey to the main stage was not an easy feat, but he persevered because he knew he wanted better for his life.

“Acting in general has helped me a lot,” explains Jesse. “I think being able to analyze people and what they do what they do has helped me.”

In less than a month, 39 young local actors will take the stage to present “Willy Wonka Jr.” at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Anna Kimmell, the Director of Education for The Rep, has worked with Jesse and is excited for the talent he will bring to the show.

“Jesse is incredibly intelligent, smart, funny, talented, and he’s also on the spectrum – so he has high-functioning autism,” says Kimmell. “Its been amazing to work with him through the past year and see how he’s grown and both as a person and as an artist.”

“Whether I am breaking down barriers or not, I don’t think that’s my place to say,” says Jesse. “I’m just here cause I want to have fun.”

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