Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Drama program enhances social skills of individuals with Asperger Syndrome

Drama program enhances social skills for children with Asperger's SyndromeActing exercises helping those in autistic spectrum
By: Michelle Miller, Journal Staff WriterTuesday, January 3, 2006 2:11 PM PST

Jeff Ogata and his 10-year-old son, Xian Ogata, participate in a miming exercise Thursday as part of a drama program that teaches autistic children social skills. Photo by Ben Furtado/Auburn Journal
For a child with autism, everyday social situations can feel like being on stage and not knowing your lines.Because of the unique way they see the world, people with autism don't know how to respond to others during social interactions.But they can memorize how to act, like performing a part in a play.So when former professional actors Amelia Davies and John Stamm realized that what they've studied for years could help autistic spectrum children, they created a program that uses drama exercises to work on social skills.The approach works well on children with Asperger's Syndrome and High Functioning Autism, two disorders on what is known as the autistic spectrum, where symptoms range from mild to severe."Asperger's children are very verbal and frequently very, very intelligent with very high IQs," said Davies, who lives with her husband, Stamm, in Marysville. "But their core deficiency is an inability to relate to others."

Neurologically typical people inherently understand social situations, pick up on body language and facial cues and show empathy during a conversation, Davies said. An Asperger's child may just walk away from a conversation because they don't understand the concept of "social niceties.""You can see how it would be very difficult to keep a job or a relationship," she said. "They feel lost in the social world, but they have so much to give."Through repeated exercises, Davies said it's entirely possible for Asperger's children to learn how to "act" in social situations. They can memorize the myriad of facial expressions, the emotion they convey and how to react to them.During a workshop in Auburn this week, autistic children were treated to exercises that had them ducking samarai swords and wading through Jell-O.The exercises help with focus, understanding non-verbal communication and social interaction - all while embracing the silly, which Davies said Asperger's children relish.During Thursday's class, Davies asks the children to shuffle themselves within the group to see if she can remember their names. She feigns struggling to come up with one boy's name."Is it ... Wolfgang? ... Johann?" she asks as the boy smiles broadly and shakes his head no.Other exercises feature pantomime. Children imitate emotions shown by an instructor and memorize their meaning."But most of all, it's just a lot of fun," Davies said. "If they can't have fun, they're not going to see the power of social skills.""As parents and educators, we want to help them enjoy their lives so much that we focus on their core deficiencies. We don't focus on their core talents."Some of those talents include the ability to memorize lines well, a terrific sense of humor and a knack for imitation - not to mention a penchant for being "refreshingly blunt," Davies said Thursday."This one boy at the workshop yesterday said, 'I'd like to say I was not informed I was coming here until I was in the car so I'm not pleased about being here.'" she said. "You have to look at that kid and say, 'That's so cool of you to tell me that.'"The Auburn Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Learning Disabilities Support Group hosted Davies and Stamm's workshop and will facilitate more drama classes in Auburn, said support group founder Karen Clay.Along with help from autism author Dr. Jeanette McAfee, Davies and Stamm have been planting the seeds across Northern California for the teaching methods put forth in Davies' book, "Teaching Asperger's Students Social Skills Through Acting."The workshop this week was also the culmination of a 10-week course Davies and Stamm taught so others could use their methods in one-on-one or larger settings.Sacramento attorney Jeff Ogata thought Davies and Stamm's methods were great and wanted to see if someone would teach them locally. He ended up learning them himself in the 10-week course.His 10-year-old son, Xian, has Asperger's."He can recite whole commercials and imitate the voices just like on TV. But we had to teach him what a smile meant," Ogata said. "The simple things we all take for granted, they don't understand. This program allowed Xian to be sociable and interact. He's made some new friends."The drama exercises can help children feel like part of the foreground in social life, not part of the scenery."Drama is not the answer for social skills, but it's a scaffolding tool supporting social skills," Davies said. "All we want to do is help as many kids as we can with the skills we've been lucky enough to learn as actors."


Post a Comment

<< Home

Visit this Ring's Home Page!
PDD, Aspergers Support by Kevin & Sylvie
[ Prev | Skip Prev | Prev 5 | List | Stats
Join | Rand | Next 5 | Skip Next | Next ]
Powered by RingSurf!