A narrative journey of children with autisn spectrum disorder: the effect of structured drama intervention on functionality in education
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Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often experience challenges in the social, communicative and behavioural domains. They are often marginalised and isolated in education, excluded from peers and opportunities to learn. South Africa’s White Paper 6 calls for children such as those with ASD to be accommodated. This implies that, where necessary, interventions are required. This study discusses drama techniques as an intervention strategy. The main purpose of the study was to explore the effect of a structured drama intervention on children with ASD to address their challenges with functionality in education. Autism Spectrum theories and prior research on autism’s impact on the functionality of children with ASD in education were explored to provide a background on the extent of their daily challenges. Various drama techniques relevant to children with ASD were researched. This prior research provided a framework for the empirical study and the selection of appropriate drama techniques to offer participants possible support. The sample consisted of children diagnosed with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) as being on the autism spectrum. The narratives of 11 children (6-16 years) were documented to create understanding for their challenges. Mixed methods were employed to assess whether the chosen drama techniques decreased social, communicative and behavioural challenges. The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) and Canadian Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Resource Alliance – Weiss Functional Impairment Rating Scale, Parent Report (CADDRA WFIRS-P) were used as pre- and post-intervention tests for possible development (or a lack thereof) in relevant areas. These quantitative tests, together with qualitative methods, such as interviews and transcribed video-graphs, provided the necessary triangulation to validate the quantitative scores of participants. The drama intervention consisted of 12 classes over three months. A greeting session (for socialization) at the start of a class preceded the use of suitable drama techniques (breathing, relaxation, voice development, movement, improvisation, short scenes, role play and art activities). Quantitative scores indicated development in socialization, communication and behaviour (at home and in education) in most participants. Qualitative feedback provided more details on development in these areas. Social development manifested in areas such as increased compassionate and affective social skills, improved socialization and an expanded sense of humour. Development in communication skills took the form of progressively improved self-expression, increased reciprocal communication and a seemingly greater effort to communicate. Functional behaviour increased, specifically at home. Some participants demonstrated helpfulness with tasks, increased willingness to share, compliance with instructions, independent work habits, self-acceptance and affectionate behaviour. Unfortunately, for some participants, victimization, unsupported needs at school, academic demands, family circumstances, and/or failure to reinforce lessons from the drama intervention at home or continue classes affected the sustainability of the impact of the interventions. Drama intervention in a group setting provided a safe place for participants to learn through play. The group offered an important socializing space where most participants benefitted from the company of other children. This in-depth empirical study showed that the playful aspect of the drama intervention supported most participants’ development and offered progressive conditioning in increased functionality.