Drama can help autistic children improve their symptoms, a study has shown

Children who interacted in especially designed 'sensory environments' saw their autism symptoms greatly improve

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 16 April 2014 22:40 BST
A set used in Kent University's Imagining Autism research project
A set used in Kent University's Imagining Autism research project (Imagining Autism/Kent University )

Children with autism who take part in drama and performance activities may be able to improve their communication and interpersonal skills, a study has found.

As part of the research project, children aged between seven and 12 years old interacted with themed ‘sensory environments’ called Under the Sea, Outer Space, Forest, Under the City, and the Arctic.

Each environment was designed to accommodate 22 children, who were were encouraged to respond to triggers created using lighting, sound, physical action, and puppetry.

Trained performers helped the children connect with their surroundings by encouraging them to communicate, socialise, and play.

Researchers from the University of Kent found that the children’s autistic symptoms, which were rated by their parents and teaching staff, decreased significantly after they had spent time in a sensory environment, according to the university.

All of the children who took part in the research showed at least some improvements on at least one of the measures used to monitor change during the research, with over three quarters of them showing changes to more than one.

Just under one third of children who took part in the project showed significant changes on a measure of social interaction.

Some parents also reported substantial changes in child's behaviour at home, a university spokeswoman said.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) has now started trialing the methods used in the project at all schools across the UK. They are also being developed into training programmes for teachers, care workers, families, arts practitioners, and health professionals.

Professor Nicola Shaughnessy, from the University's School of Arts, said: "The methods we used in the research have been recognised as having potential for development in the diagnosis of autism, revealing 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."

Dr Julie Beadle-Brown from the University of Kent said: "This was a pilot study to explore whether drama-based interventions can make an impact on children with autism.

"We are pleased with the results and believe that this study has provided strong enough evidence to justify further research into the impact of the intervention on children with a range of different needs, as well as research to help us understand how and why the intervention appears to work," she added.

Additional reporting by PA

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