Autism researchers are hoping that the play—or theater training—may be just the thing for helping some kids on the spectrum improve communication skills and socialize more effectively with their peers. A new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that kids who took part in a "10-week, 40-hour theater program saw an increase in everyday skills like communication and the ability to recognize faces as compared to children with autism who did not attend the lessons."
In the theater program, the kids, ages 8-14, played games, did role-playing, and prepped to put on a 45-minute play. Inclusion was an important part of this study, and neurotypical peers participated in the theater program as well. The kids with autism also watched videos at home to reinforce some of what they were learning in the program. Parents reported that the positive gains in socialization and communication persisted for about two months after the theater program ended.
This type of intervention may not be for all kids on the spectrum—I could see it being really challenging for kids with sensory issues, anxiety, or non-speaking kids, although perhaps accommodations like using RPM could be made to help kids with these challenges succeed in a theater program. But I do think it's a cool idea. I love when researchers step away from trying to determine the causes of autism and actually try to help improve the lives of kids on the spectrum, and I hope that's the direction more autism research will take in the future. For now, inspired by the useful, practical findings of this study, I'm going to bring more games, role-playing, and songs into my home, so my 7-year-old on the spectrum and his younger brother can have a new outlet for communication and socialization. Should be fun for us all!