Theatre could help autistic youth improve social deficits

Washington: A novel autism intervention program is using theatre to teach reciprocal communication skills to improve social deficits in adolescents with the disorder, a new study has revealed.

The newly released study assessed the effectiveness of a two-week theatre camp on children with autism spectrum disorder and found significant improvements were made in social perception, social cognition and home living skills by the end of the camp.

Called SENSE Theatre, the Social Emotional Neuroscience and Endocrinology (SENSE) program evaluates the social functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.

Camp participants ages 8 to 17 years join with typically developing peers who are specially trained to serve as models for social interaction and communication, skills that are difficult for children with autism.

The camp uses techniques such as role-play and improvisation and culminates in public performances of a play.

Lead author Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator, said that the findings show that treatment can be delivered in an unconventional setting, and children with autism can learn from unconventional 'interventionists' - their typically developing peer.

Corbett said that their findings show that the SENSE Theatre program contributes to improvement in core social deficits when engaging with peers both on and off the stage.

The study has been published in the journal Autism Research.