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Your Dollars @ Work: Creating Dramatic Worlds with Youth with Autism

This Your Dollars @ Work post discusses the great work of Imagine the Possibilities: Creating Dramatic Worlds with Youth on the Autism Spectrum, a drama program funded by a 2012 Family Services Community Grant of $23,340 that has had a tremendous impact on kids with autism.

In 2012, Autism Speaks awarded a Family Services Community Grant to the University of Northern Iowa Foundation to fund a drama program for kids with autism. The focus was on social skills training, peer modeling and inclusion through the program. FIVE drama skills were emphasized throughout the grant project and served as the foundation for all lesson developed.  The skills included: 

  • Sensory Awareness:  Activities that emphasize dramatically at least one of the five senses; in this lesson touch and sight will be emphasized
  • Movement:  Activities that generate and emphasize a spontaneous, physical response to a prompt. The prompt can be visual or aural.  The response can be large or small motor based.
  • Pantomime: acting without words.  Activities that focus and emphasize communicating any of the following non-verbally:  action, mood, environment, character, age, occupation, emotions/feelings, objects or animals.  Can be large or small motor based; can include gesture and facial expression.
  • Story Dramatization/Character Development:  The creation of a story using action and sound/words.  In most cases, students replay characters introduced by the leader. 
  • Role-Play (playing self or another in a “regular” daily situation)

Deb Rocheau, a special needs teacher who works with students involved in the program summarized the incredible impact that participation in the program had on her students:

"The biggest impact that drama had on my students who are on the spectrum can be summarized in four points:

  1. They were able to channel their creativity in a way that instead of letting them look in from the outside as they often do, drama allowed them to be engaged and be inside the circle and be included with everyone.
  2. It boosted their confidence. The super cool thing is that it allowed them to see and feel their expressive voice. 
  3. They could be in character and still be able to express themselves. Having costumes and role playing allowed the students to be more expressive.
  4. It provided them the skills to interact, communicate and have more relationships with their peers. They could practice what they learned and everyone could relate to it so they felt like they belonged."

Below is what one parent had to say about the program:

"Before drama, Everett was struggling socially to fit in. At school he really preferred to isolate himself and play independently at recess. But now, with drama, I’ve noticed that his social life is developing a lot more positively. He makes a lot more of an effort to communicate with his classmates and he also expresses his needs a lot better at home. It appears to me like drama has given him the gift of a lot of self-expression and self-discovery and having a place to go that is accepting and encouraging of him has given him a lot of self-confidence that he was lacking before. The benefits are really infinite. There is nothing better than seeing my kid smiling and happy while watching him interact with ot her kids and work on his social skills. Instead of sulking through his day, now he has something to look forward to, a place where he really fits in and feels like he belongs. He has a better sense of purpose because of drama." 

Below is a video of Gretta Berghammer teaching the students:

Click here to read the final report and the curriculum created by Gretta to allow this successful program to be replicated around the country!

Your Dollars @ Work is a blog series highlighting the important work of past recipients of Autism Speaks grants to give you a glimpse into how your donations are changing lives of so many in the autism community! Check out previous entries here.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.