Notes on Brief Report: Theatre as Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Emmett)

In autism, social skills training often includes a variety of techniques such as group intervention , video modeling e.g., social stories e.g., social problem solving, pivotal response training, script and cue procedures, and computer-based interventions (Corbett et al. 505-506).

Drama therapy and theatrical techniques have been used to enhance social skills in children with communication and emotional challenges as well as autism. Theatre, like modeling, may help individuals identify key social cues (e.g., recognizing facial expressions) and develop skills in communication, movement, pretend play, and social interaction . Additionally, music can significantly impact affect and memory. Thus, music therapy shows potential in enhancing functioning in autism (Corbett et al. 506)

The investigation was initiated with the belief that theatre may provide an ideal environment to teach a variety of core skills that children with autism often lack (Corbett et al. 507).

We hypothesized that children with autism would demonstrate improvement in social perception (memory of faces, the expression of emotions, and theory of mind) skills and adaptive functioning. It was also hypothesized that changes would occur over time in biological response to include reductions in cortisol level and a reciprocal rise in the level of oxytocin (Corbett et al. 507).

The current pilot investigation evaluated SENSE Theatre, a theatrical intervention program designed to improve the socioemotional functioning of children with autism (Corbett et al. 509)

There were no statistical differences in pre-post com- parsions for OT level or parent report measures. It is unclear if the indices are unaffected by the intervention or if the sample size and limited power are too small to detect differences; thus rendering the results ambiguous (Corbett et al. 509).

Despite the potentially promising results, the study did not use a randomized experimental design, was limited by a very small, heterogeneous sample, and did not include a control group. Participation did not require cessation of ongoing interventions; however, treatment approaches were held constant. Our next investigation will address these concerns by a much larger, homogeneous sample in an enhanced experimental design (e.g., manual develop- ment, control group, random assignment (Corbett et al. 509).

In summary, the pilot project succeeded in evaluating this novel intervention by including neuropsychological, biological, and behavioral data. The results show the potential promise of using a theatrical approach and set- ting, along with established behavioral science methods, to facilitate the development of core areas of challenge in youth with autism (Corbett et al. 509).

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