Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

January 26, 2016


By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP
  • Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have difficulty engaging with peers and learning appropriate social skills
  • Dramatic play is used during therapy to help role play various social interactions and increase exposure to different situations
  • A recent study found that children with ASD who were involved in a theater program were found to have improved social abilities

The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders published an article about a Vanderbilt University study of a theater program. Therapy for children with ASD often includes goals focusing on expressing emotions, listening, and recognizing different social cues. This theater program incorporated all of these goals into a fun, motivating experience for children ages 8-14. For the research study, children were divided into two different groups. One group of children enrolled in the theater program and the other did not. Children with ASD often benefit from peer models, therefore this theater program included neurotypical peers to model appropriate social interactions. After 10 weeks of the program, children showed improved group play skills outside of the study and an increase in overall social communication and ability to interact.

While working with children who have ASD, I always include pretend and dramatic play into our therapy sessions. This is a great way for children to role-play and become comfortable with social interactions without the pressure of peers. Although this theater program focused more on children between the ages 8-14, pretend play starts around 2 years old. At home, you can foster pretend play and role-playing by modeling for your child different scenarios such as going to the doctor or cooking in a pretend kitchen. For older children, it may be fun to act out their favorite movies and practice this theater program within your home environment.

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