“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
When we speak about treating autism, we aim to increase quality of life and functional independence of individuals with autism. The sooner it’s diagnosed and treatment started, the better. Intensive, sustained special education programs and behavior therapy early in life can help children to gain necessary self-care, social and job’s skills. There are many therapies available, such as speech and language therapy, social skills therapy, occupational therapy, developmental models, structured teaching, applied behavioral analysis. Thus, professionals use art, music, dances, animal and theater therapies. All of them are targeted to develop certain skills – social engagement, language, behavior, etc.
Theater (or drama) therapy is something that can be fun and effective.
Autistics are usually verbal, but lack skills to speak and interact socially. Their language skills are “echolalic” which means that they repeat other’s words verbatim. Some parents say that their children with autism can recite long dialogues from TV shows and movies, with the same intonation and accent. Drama therapy allows verbal individuals with autism to practice social skills, work on reading, use body language, and develop speaking skills. Even better – they can actually become actors, build confidence and earn sincere applause!
Cindy Schneider, the author of the book “Acting Antics: A Theatrical Approach to Teaching Social Understanding to Kids and Teens with Asperger Syndrome” , offers classes in theater to kids and adults with autism and other disabilities. According to her observation, participants may gain and improve self-confidence, self-esteem, recognition of emotions in others, identification and labeling of own emotions. It’s a great new leisure time activity in a group where they can be successful, new awareness of volume levels and beginning modulation of level, new skills for functioning as part of a group, new skills for following directions.
Drama therapy is a new field and it’s not easy to find a specialist for autism treatment. However, it certainly deserves our attention. There is a news study shows that using a signature approach pairing the recitation of Shakespeare’s rhythmic language and physical gesture. After 10 weeks classes, one hour per week, 14 participants (10-14 years old) improved social and communication skills. The results were published in Research and Practice in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
“At the end of the study, which incorporated Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, children with autism showed significant improvement in their social skills and their ability to engage in social relationships. They’re taught core skills in a very relaxed, playful environment, in which it’s almost like they’re not aware that they’re being taught,” said Marc J. Tassé, professor of psychology and psychiatry and director of the Nisonger Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
The improvements were noticed not only by independent researchers, but by parents and children themselves.