SENSE Theatre Program Proves Effective

Over the summer we discussed Broadway shows offering “autism friendly performances,” such as The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Wicked, and Spiderman. Part of that discussion was the SENSE Theatre, Social Emotional Neuroscience & Endocrinology, offered by Vanderbilt University, facilitating role playing and improvisation to improve social deficits among adolescents with autism. The two-week camp program, available for ages 8-17, utilizes typically developing peers as models to improve social interaction and communication.

The results of the program were both impressive and effective. Improvements were seen on all fronts: social perception, social cognition, and home living skills. Parents also showed to be less stressed about their child’s well-being.

Using neuropsychological measures, social perception and interaction skills were measured both before and after the camp. Significant differences showed an improvement in face processing, social awareness, and social cognition. The participants’ stress hormone cortisol was measured and showed a decrease of stress once the program was finished.

The researchers of the study were very pleased with the findings and the implications of the study, “The findings show that treatment can be delivered in an unconventional setting, and children with autism can learn from unconventional ‘interventionists’ – their typically developing peer.”[i] Also important to the autism community is the fact that these participants were not toddlers in early intervention; they were already a little older, yet still benefited from the therapy method.

The point: it’s never too late.


[i] “Vanderbilt University” Theatre offers promise for youth with autism, Vanderbilt study finds. 22 Oct 2013. Web. <http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2013/10/theatre-offers-promise-for-youth-with-autism/>