Drama activities may be able to improve communication and interpersonal skills in children with autism according to a recent study. Children aged 7-12 years were encouraged to interact with themed sensory environments (themes included ‘under the sea’ and ‘outer space’).
Each environment was built to accommodate 22 children who were encouraged to respond to light, sound and physical action by trained performers.
Researchers from the University of Kent discovered that after spending time in this sensory environment, the children’s autistic symptoms decreased significantly. All of the children who took part were found to show at least some improvement on at least one of the measures, while over three quarters showed changes to more than one. Just under a third of participants showed significant changes in terms of social interaction.
Interestingly, some of the parents also noted substantial changes in their child’s behaviour at home – indicating that the effect is a lasting one.
The methods used in the research are now being trialed by The National Autistic Society (NAS) across schools in the UK. On top of this, methods are being developed into training programmes for families, care workers, teachers, art practitioners and health professionals.
Professor Nicola Shaughnessy from the University’s School of Arts said that the methods used have been recognised as having potential in terms of diagnosing autism to reveal areas of ability as well as difficulty,
“The work has also offered insights into the imagination of children with autism and the importance of play-based approaches which can often be overlooked post-diagnosis.”