Drama Enhances Communication In Autistic Kids

Researchers at the University of Kent suggest that creativity and intermedial languages can be used as a bridge to communicate with autistic children.

In a new study, researchers engaged autistic children in an all-surrounding drama experience. This immersion environment exposes children to lights, sound, puppets, and masked characters. Moreover, the intervention allows children to free play and respond, drawing out eye contact, speech, and shared play within the rich sensory context.

In a joint article, “Material voices: intermediality and autism” appearing in the journal Research in Drama Education, Dr Melissa Trimingham and Professor Nicola Shaughnessy say autism continues to be regarded as a community that is difficult to access due to “perceived disruptions of interpersonal connectedness”.

Their pioneering research using drama with autistic children started with a project “Imagining Autism: Drama, Performance and Intermediality as Interventions for Autistic Spectrum Conditions” (2011-2014). The intervention began in special schools and has now extended to working with families.

The project aims to help the whole family through teaching them new play skills using drama and puppetry, multi-sensory materials, and even comedy to help with challenging behavior.

The family program developed from workshops with teachers and caregivers in NAS (National Autistic Society) schools and was funded by the University of Kent.

The writers are parents of autistic children themselves and have personal experience of family life with autism.

Through detailed observations of two children, they demonstrate how “intermediality” unlocked some of the many and various languages autistic children use, facilitating their self-awareness.

They argue for wider use of creative ‘material’ languages such as puppetry, costumes, projection, microphones, lights, and sound in play as a bridge between the lived experience of autism and practices of education and care.

Source: University of Kent/EurekAlert

Photo: Families play in the pod. Credit: University of Kent.