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Autism and Acting: A Role for Theater Participation

You may think that acting and performing in the theater would be the last thing someone on the autism spectrum would enjoy. But for many, it's just the ticket.

One of the beautiful things about theater work is that the actor knows exactly where to stand at each cue, what emotion the character is feeling, and what he should say. He also knows what the other actor will say. He knows how the story ends. The predictability and repetition can be appealing to the individual on the autism spectrum who finds the "unexpected" in daily social interaction to be anxiety-provoking.

The actor can "wear a role" that he might not otherwise "try on." For example, his character can have a loud argument with another character and allow it to play out in the script. His character may also go through a struggle and come out better for it by the end of the play.

And for the ASD actor, there is little personal risk. He knows it is "not really him," but the character who is fighting and growing and loving. For the autistic who fears making personal mistakes or being wrong, playing out a role as someone else can provide the psychological distance to practice messy relational scenarios.

For those of you familiar with the use of "social stories" in autism (Carol Gray in 1991), you may wish to consider theater as a form of immersion in a series of social stories.

If you'd like to read more about theater and autism, you may enjoy the following research.

Corbett, Blythe & Key, Alexandra & Qualls, Lydia & Fecteau, Stephanie-M & Newsom, Cassandra & Coke, Catherine & Yoder, Paul. (2015). Improvement in Social Competence Using a Randomized Trial of a Theatre Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders. 46. 10.1007/s10803-015-2600-9.

Corbett BA, Gunther JR, Comins D, et al. Brief report: theatre as therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord.2011; 41(4): 505-511. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1064-1.

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