Why drama is important for autistic children?

I’ve wanted to do this post ever since I started blogging, however, I wanted to do it when I had the time to do it. This topic I think is very important in revolutionising how we help develop children with autism. So in this post I’ll be explaining why drama should be an essential part of the development of autistic children. Also its importance in schools in general.

The link between autism and drama

The NAS outlines: “three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are…:

  • difficulty with social communication
  • difficulty with social interaction
  • difficulty with social imagination.” (NAS)

Drama is a subject all about communicating a story or thoughts, understanding interactions between actors and performer and exploring your imagination to create different performances and scenarios.

It is already clear that drama has what autism needs. In other words the difficulties that people with autism can have drama can help those individuals improve those skills in the safety of knowing that it is not real. It’s almost like taking social scripting to a different level. I mean there are different ways of using drama with different types of autistics. One documentary that I found very interesting was Autism the Musical which was a HBO documentary that followed around 10 autistic children putting on a musical and they had a range of different needs from non-verbal to verbal, stimmers, talent musicians. Some were able to say lines while others danced along on stage. Whatever their contribution it all collated together to make a heart-warming performance. Below is a trailer of the documentary:

 

There has also been work with puppetry to engage those with autism in a drama setting. The project Imagining Autism was done by dramatists and researchers at the University of Kent to show how drama could improve the areas of autistic children’s difficulties. The children would make eye contact with the puppets and talk to them becoming absorbed in the world that the performers had created for the children by using a big dome environment and inviting the children to take part in imaginative play with different characters. Their research did show children improving in at least one aspect of one area of difficulty. Significant number of children improved in many aspects even crossing different areas of difficulty. More information can be found in the link here: http://imaginingautism.org/

How government views drama

In the UK drama is becoming a subject with little value, I did my degree in drama and that can shock people when they find out I’m autistic, and I find this absolutely ridiculous and deeply saddening. Look at the national curriculum in England below:

 

gov table

Source: https://www.gov.uk/…data/…/SECONDARY_national_curriculum.pdf

As you can see drama is not compulsory at any stage. Though I know what you are thinking it would come under Art and Design. No look below:

Art, craft and design embody some of the highest forms of human creativity. A high quality art and design education should engage, inspire and challenge pupils, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to experiment, invent and create their own works of art, craft and design. As pupils progress, they should be able to think critically and develop a more rigorous understanding of art and design. They should also know how art and design both reflect and shape our history, and contribute to the culture, creativity and wealth of our nation.

No mention of drama, performance, anything like. The only mention in relation to secondary school education is this:

 

Key stage 4 entitlement areas

3.7 The arts (comprising art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts), design and technology, the humanities (comprising geography and history) and modern foreign language are not compulsory national curriculum subjects after the age of 14, but all pupils in maintained schools have a statutory entitlement to be able to study a subject in each of those four areas.

 

See the tiny mention there. What they are essentially saying is that a school only has to have one of the subjects taught from that subject area for GSCEs, i.e. the arts you could only provide art and design but have no obligation to provide drama at that level. It appears that you don’t need to provide drama at any level. The subject that teaches you about humans and human interactions is not important to the UK government. Absolutely ludicrous!

 

All information used here is from the official government outline of the National Curriculum in England, UK: https://www.gov.uk/…data/…/SECONDARY_national_curriculum.pdf

 

My experience

 

Drama has completely changed my life. In secondary school before I got into drama I didn’t really speak to anyone because I had been constantly isolated from any friendship group I had tried to become a part of. At the time I was not aware of my autism but I knew there was something different about me that the other children did not understand. I decided to audition for the school play in year 8 (12-13yrs old) with someone else, my brother was a big performer and I guess I was intrigued. I was a singing mouse in Wind in the Willows, not the most glamourous or important role but I was part of a big family. I had to learn how to be told what to do, no matter how wrong I thought they were, otherwise I would not be in time with everyone. I was constantly surrounded by people during rehearsals and soon found myself studying how they spoke to each other and began conversing with them too. It was something I never experienced before.

 

I kept going with drama, working with scripts; this helped me to understand a character, the words were on the page already I could read the story over and over again, no surprises because in script work it always stays the same. Soon I started to learn about subtext, in lessons the teacher would explain that sometimes a character doesn’t always say what they mean. My mind was blown at first I couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t say what they meant. Saying something like “you look nice” could have so many different meanings depending on your tone of voice. For example it could be that the person does look nice if you said it with a light tone of voice. In contrast though it could mean you look terrible if you said it in a high pitched tone with raised eyebrows showing shock. I mean how complicated is that. I would never have understood that if it wasn’t for drama and learning what different facial expressions meant. I also learnt about the intention of what you say I was so used to saying what I think that I’d never thought of lying to spare someone’s feelings so saying they looked nice even if they looked terrible so that they wouldn’t be self-conscious. Now drama hasn’t taken my autism away, I wouldn’t want it to, but these are just the few things drama did for me. It helped me to make friends by understanding how to act around them, to understand someone else’s emotion even though I may not be feeling it.

 

I always say I don’t know what I would have done without drama. It has been the best thing that ever happened in my life. I genuinely think I would be an isolated, miserable, hermit who would have thought what the point of my life is. It saved my life.

 

In conclusion

I think there needs to be more research done with regards to drama helping develop and improve the areas of difficulty children with autism have. More value needs to be placed on to teaching drama in schools in a good quality way, not just getting an English teacher to teach drama to name one example. Children with autism could benefit so much from making a drama intervention rather than ABA which I am personally against. In the future I hope to be able to assist in this field of drama and autism and the ability drama has as an intervention for autistic children. But for now I am gaining experience in my school and learning through the inside, absorbing all the knowledge I can so that when I do branch out into drama interventions it is as effective as possible.

 

I mean this topic could be spoken about constantly however I have just picked a few pieces of information out.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share and ask any questions. I feel this topic is so under spoken about but could be such a great help to not only autistic children but mainstream children as well. I hope you liked it. Peace out.

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