Theatre, and theatre studies may prove invaluable to children and young adults when enhancing their communication and social inhibition issues.
A study released October 22 in the Journal of Autism Research has indicated that children with autism and ASDs respond exceedingly well to theatre in particular musical theatre as part of their early intervention and communicational therapies.
The observational based research conducted by the Venderbilt University saw a number of autistic children take part in a two week musical theatre camp, and measured skills with social interaction and communication post camp.
Children appeared visibly happier and able to communicate more efficiently post attendance.
Called SENSE Theatre, the Social Emotional Neuroscience & Endocrinology (SENSE) program evaluates the social functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.
Camp participants ages 8 to 17 years join with typically developing peers who are specially trained to serve as models for social interaction and communication, skills that are difficult for children with autism. The camp uses techniques such as role-play and improvisation and culminates in public performances of a play.
Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator said:
“The findings show that treatment can be delivered in an unconventional setting, and children with autism can learn from unconventional ‘interventionists’ – their typically developing peers.”
Stress hormone cortisol was measured through saliva samples taken both at home and throughout the camp to compare the stress level of participants at home, at the beginning of the camp and at the end of the camp. Cortisol levels rose on the first day of camp when compared to home values but declined by the end of treatment and during post-treatment play with peers. Dr Corbett said:
“Our findings show that the SENSE Theatre program contributes to improvement in core social deficits when engaging with peers both on and off the stage,” Corbett said. “This research also shows it’s never too late to make a significant difference in the lives of children and youth with autism spectrum disorder, as [this program] targets children who are much older than kids who are participating in early intervention, yet we are still seeing significant gains in the core deficits of autism, and in a rather brief intervention.”