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Drama may be key to opening up the world for autistic children

A new research project exploring how drama-based activities may play a key role in helping autistic children communicate, socialise and play imaginatively was launched at the University.

The Imagining Autism project will see performers working with three different special schools in Kent to create magical sensory environments using puppetry, objects, light, sound and digital media. Children at the schools will be encouraged to dream, play and explore and hopefully find new ways of connecting with the world around them.

The study will include psychology and autism experts from the University, who will evaluate the impact of the drama interventions on 18 children during the 30-month project.

The research, which has received £350k in grant funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), will see collaboration between the University's School of Arts and School of Psychology as well as its Tizard Centre and Gulbenkian Theatre.

Results from the research could lead to a full-scale trial and may also prompt changes in approaches to other communication disorders in children.

Principal researcher Dr Nicola Shaughnessy, of the University’s School of Arts, said: ‘Autism affects as many as one in 100 people in the UK but there is no cure and no single effective intervention.

‘Imagining Autism is a scientific and systematic evaluation of whether drama interventions can have positive effects on autistic children.

‘The aim is for this research to have future benefits for related conditions and I’m sure its results will be of interest to those working in a range of areas including Theatre, Health, Education and Social Services, as well families and carers with experience of autism.’

Senior lecturers in Drama Dr Shaughnessy and Dr Melissa Trimingham will lead the project, together with autism expert Dr Julie Beadle-Brown, of the University’s Tizard Centre, and cognitive psychologist Dr David Wilkinson, of the School of Psychology.

The project team will make use of a range of measures to evaluate the impact of the performance activities on three groups of six primary school children, all with a diagnosis of autism.

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Last Updated: 16/12/2011