Drama boosts social skills for autistic children

YOUNG people with autism are developing their social skills through groundbreaking drama classes at Trinity College Dublin.

The group of children and adults aged up to 20 who have Asperger Syndrome marked the end of this year’s classes last night, marking another success in helping them to improve their future prospects in education and employment.

People with Asperger’s are at the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum and are usually highly intelligent, but may have high levels of anxiety and difficulties understanding and interpreting social situations.

Dr Carmel O’Sullivan of Trinity’s school of education developed the drama classes as a way of addressing their social and communications difficulties.

“We work on areas that need improving, for example, taking turns, listening skills and interpreting body language,” she said.

The classes are done for around an hour a week, working with groups of eight or nine students with each teacher.

Dr O’Sullivan said very little research has been done on how to help young people with Asperger’s to improve their interactions in social and school settings.

The syndrome is described by ASPIRE, the Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland, as a social disability which makes people with the condition vulnerable to bullying or victimisation.

“Once the condition is diagnosed in a person, he or she can be taught the social skills which do not otherwise come naturally. We believe the process drama intervention to be by far the most effective and successful method by which to bring about a dramatic improvement,” said ASPIRE spokesman Niall O’Neill.

“This reduces anxiety and raises confidence, and significantly improves the future education, career and employment prospects for a person with this condition,” he said.

The work is a world-first from which the participants and their families are reporting great results. They say the classes have helped children, adolescents and adults to overcome many of the difficulties they experience in social interaction and in their understanding of other people and the world around them.

Asperger’s is far more common in males, with around seven boys and men with the condition for every female.

* www.aspireireland.ie

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