Shakespeare's Play Help Children With Autism Improve Their Social Skills

First Posted: Oct 18, 2016 06:00 AM EDT

A new study has recently revealed that recitation of Shakespeare's rhythmic language together with a physical gesture can significantly help social and communication skills become better in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to Indian Express, children with ASD often have a hard time understanding non-verbal communication in social interaction and struggle to communicate. They usually avoid eye contact, therefore, missing most visual cues. This makes it difficult for them to maintain friendly relationships and share mutual interests.

The new study, conducted by researchers from Ohio State University, revealed that using Shakespeare's play with rhythmic language with physical gesture has helped the social and communication skills of children with ASD. In a statement issued by Dr. Marc J. Tassé, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University, he said: "At the end of the study, which incorporated Shakespeare's play The Tempest, children with autism showed significant improvement in their social skills and their ability to engage in social relationships."

For the study, researchers enlisted 14 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for the drama-based social skill intervention which they dubbed "Hunter Heartbeat Method." Canberra Times reported that Kelly Hunter, an actress from the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, created this strategy to help improve the social skills, language skills, and ability to recognize facial expressions of children with autism. As part of the method, the participants were asked to start their sessions seated in a circle and perform a "Hello Heartbeat" by tapping their hand to their chest. The study's authors explained that this method will provide the kids with time to adjust to their surroundings and slowly transition into the session.

Initially, two facilitators model the game in the center of the circle. After that, the facilitators and children separate into pairs for one on one repeated practice as well as retroactive feedback of the game. Facilitators and children then go back to the circle where they take turns "performing" for the other participants. After a number of games, which ultimately reflect the plot progression of The Tempest, the "Hunter Heartbeat Method" intervention concludes with a "Goodbye Heartbeat," reported Medical Xpress.

"You interact with someone, you enjoy yourself and you get that intrinsic reinforcement of socializing children with autism don't always get to experience that," said Maggie Mehling, co-author and psychology graduate assistant at Ohio State.

Meanwhile, assessments before the activity were made to collect baseline data for each child. Children did the intervention an hour per week after school over a 10 week period. At the end of the study, posttest assessments were also done and parent and participants completed questionnaires about their impression of the intervention.

Heather Davis, whose son Chase participated in the group was also initially skeptical. Her son, however, loved it. "It was like watching a completely different child for those few moments," she told Ohio State University. "He absolutely found pure joy in it."

Although the findings need to be done with a larger group of children, researchers were able to conclude, based on their findings, that the Hunter Heartbeat Method, "shows promise in improving the functioning of children with autism spectrum disorder."

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