Roanoke, VA - The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus opens a six-show run at the Roanoke Civic Center Thursday, and the company has been reaching out to kids all over the Roanoke Valley .
About 30 kids from the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center got a behind-the-scenes look at the "Greatest Show on Earth." The group included children suffering from various levels of autism. They got a chance to get up close and personal at an event that many wouldn't have the chance to enjoy.
"It was really nice that they reached out to us. Our parents couldn't be anymore excited to have our group welcome our kids in and give them a special experience," said Samantha McFarland with the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center in Roanoke County.
Taylor Anderson is part of the group. Like most of the other kids, Anderson has never seen a circus.
"A bunch of dogs coming out and run around because there's dogs right there. Right there!"
"Because the circus is so over stimulating with the lights and the music and all the movement. So for our families they were so excited they got to come and have a bit of a normal kid experience," said McFarland.
For Ringmaster David Shipwell, putting on this extra show is simply part of the circus' mission.
"That's what the 'Greatest Show on Earth' is all about. It is about the kids and the families and creating an experience for children of all ages," said Shipwell.
Dogs ruled the day - first performing for the kids before a meet and greet session. That followed by show props that the kids could touch, hold and understand.
"They really enjoy feeling; rubbing things. They can get a lot of information from feeling, hearing and seeing," said McFarland.
All of it over within a half hour, just long enough for these kids to do what millions and millions of other kids get to do every year - enjoy the circus. And while it wasn't close to a full show, for these kids, a little circus goes a long way.
"Sometimes they just have to feel it to truly try to understand what the world is trying to tell them."
The show kicks Thursday at 7 p.m. with another single performance Friday night. That's followed by two shows on Saturday and Sunday at the Roanoke Civic Center.