Children with autism often struggle to communicate. Many avoid eye contact, don't understand the context of conversation and may miss visual cues from others around them.
But by allowing children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to study with Ohio State University student actors who are engaging students in Shakespeare-based activities, the hope is that they will improve their socializing and communicating skills, Dr. Marc J. Tasse, director of the Nisonger Center and principal investigator on the waitlist control trial studying the unique intervention, said.
"In this intervention with middle school children with autism, we're using Shakespeare's play, The Tempest," Tasse, who is also a clinical psychologist, said.
"It's quite amazing to see how a Shakespeare play can be transformed into a therapeutic intervention that encourages students to express themselves and communicate," he said.
The research project is a collaborative effort with the Nisonger Center, the Ohio State University Department of Theatre, Columbus City Schools and the Ohio State University/Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) partnership.
The Nisonger Center is the only place in the United States testing this idea, said Tasse.
The idea originated about 20 years ago in Great Britain with Kelly Hunter, an actress in the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, who developed the "Hunter Heartbeat Method." Her signature approach pairs the recitation of Shakespeare's rhythmic language with physical gesture.
Hunter reached out to Ohio State asking researchers here to develop the study protocol.
Now, students in the Department of Theatre are teaming up with researchers at the Nisonger Center to try and figure out exactly what it is about Shakespeare that reaches these children with autism, when many other approaches may not.
"The distinctive methodology I have created uses Shakespeare to release the communicative blocks within children with autism," Hunter, who is visiting Columbus now and working with some of the children in the intervention sessions said.