And all the men and women
They have their exits and
And one man in his time
plays many parts…
Life is like a stage; for what comes naturally for the neurotypical person, must be learned and rehearsed for those on the spectrum. It’s like a dress rehearsal for the real thing, for day-to-day social existence. Being involved in “theater” helped my son, JJ, in so many ways.
Over the years, I saw how “theater” evolved in my son’s life beginning at age three when he could repeat a 15-minute video word-for-word. When JJ was in elementary school, the school psychologist learned how JJ liked the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip. JJ lacked emotional expression, had a flat affect, and a robotic sound to his voice. The psychologist saw how JJ came alive when reading the comic strip aloud showing inflection in his voice communicating emotion; he was playing the part.
When JJ entered his junior high school years, he was intrigued with Bill Cosby’s comedy routines and memorized them word-for-word while imitating Cosby’s mannerisms. It brought a level of self confidence that JJ lacked. He was being socially accepted for his impersonations of Cosby.
Addressing Social Cognition
When he entered high school, drama classes were part of JJ’s IEP goals. Author Cindy Schneider of the book Acting Antics: A Theatrical Approach to Teaching Social Understanding to Kids and Teens with Asperger Syndrome states it clearly, “The central processes in acting – including making and interpreting inferences from non-verbal cues, taking another’s perspective, and formulating language – can be highly effective ways of addressing social cognition deficits in children with AS.” Not only did drama help with the development of these skills, it also helped JJ read his “audience” to help with the delivery and timing of his messages. He began to act out his conversations with appropriate inflection and facial expressions in ways he couldn’t before.
JJ got so good at this that he entered the high school talent show with a stand-up comedy routine he wrote himself; he wowed us all. I believe as a result of JJ’s success with “drama,” he is now presenting successfully at autism conferences and workshops with a dynamic delivery to his message of perseverance. There were many days that I could hear JJ behind closed doors practicing conversations, rehearsing “life” that so many of us take for granted.