Director Gives Autistic Kids Leading Roles; Joey Travolta Hosts a Film Camp for Autistic Children and Teens at UNF

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Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

As the music played and the film camera rolled, 50 children and teens danced wildly around the room.

Tala Mansoula, 10, and Madison Rolfsen, 11, laughed as they boogied together.

Justin Fellin, 16, waved his arms from his wheelchair.

Ten-year-old Dani Moore got so into the beat that she plopped down on the floor and waved her legs in the air.

"Autism is not obvious," said Hollywood film director Joey Travolta, who was directing the scene at the University of North Florida on Wednesday.

"But when you are doing acting and filmmaking, they shine."

Travolta, brother of actor John Travolta, is conducting a two-week film camp to give children with autism the opportunity to learn the movie business alongside other children.

The camp, which is free to participants, is produced by ArtLife Productions and sponsored by UNF and the Ponte Vedra Beach-based nonprofit organization Healing Every Autistic Life, or HEAL, which supports families of children with autism diagnoses.

"There's no inhibition, they're very natural," Travolta said of children with autism, a developmental disability that impairs social interaction and communication.

People with the disability often exhibit unusual and repetitive behaviors that can be considered "quirky," said Travolta, a former special education teacher.

"But autism is not always obvious, and people need to understand that."

This is the third year Travolta is conducting camps for special children around the country. The camp at UNF, which began Monday, is his first in Florida. …