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BY Sara

Stage Lights: How theater can help individuals with autism

One of my all-time favorite TED talks is Approaching Autism Theatrically in which the totally brilliant Stephen Volan discusses how his experiences in an improv theatre troop helped him to learn the social language of neurotypicals.

While Volan discuss the productive uncertainty of improv, theater (as a more general framework) has all the necessary components to building true confidence, and many of the threads that run through it are objectives in RDI

Theater was my first love, before I started working with kids who have autism. There is nothing that excites me more than seeing underestimated kids have the opportunity for social, creative and recreational output.

So what is it about this particular creative process that makes kids light up?

Playing a role

How awesome is it that in theater, you get a costume and script that helps you know how to act and what to say?

The beauty of this for kids with ASD (actually for all kids) is that your character says a line, and you can almost always anticipate how your partner is going to respond. What a relief! Within the structure of this framework, is all the good stuff – all the nonverbal communication that says:

Are you with me? Are we doing this?

We’re doing this! We’re creating something together!

Script Writing

Creating a script provides lots of opportunity to shine. The typing itself (often of several drafts) is always a regulating activity.

But I think the best part is that everything, with the exception of stage direction, is dialogue, and the social interaction between characters revolves around that. A lot of kids I know who gravitate to graphic novels for this reason, also gravitate to reading plays (and writing them!).

Emotion Sharing

This is the best part. The feeling that comes out of working toward something together. So many binding emotions come from collaborating on a theatre project. Not to mention the incredible endorphins that flow when you’re up there on stage!


Repetition is a beautiful thing. The more times you do something, the more sure you become of how it’s going to go the next time around. While repeating tasks can be extremely frustrating in therapy or other life activities, within the context of theatre, it’s totally acceptable. Each time you rehearse, something new is discovered, and it’s a great way to build competency and resilience.

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. “~ Oscar Wilde

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Written on March 16, 2012 by:

Sara Winter is a mom of two boys and the founder of a recreational application for kids with autism to connect with one another.

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