When I was growing up as a kid in the 80s, Aspergers wasn’t a diagnosis, I was just a weird, clumsy and shy child who didn’t make friends that easily and never kept the ones I made. My parents faced with this weird, shy child enrolled me in drama classes when I was 7 years old in the hope that it would cure me of my shyness. I always remained a quiet kid, but the 13 years I spent doing drama classes had a massive impact on my life and helped me overcome some of the challenges of my Aspergers.
The major benefits of drama classes for those on the spectrum are:
1. The drama classes gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn social skills. In acting out small scenes, I learnt the appropriate responses to certain social situations and got to try out various scenarios without embarrassing myself or offending anyone else. Also, I got to witness first hand how people reacted to inappropriate responses and understand the reasonings behind their reactions.
2. The drama classes gave me a safe place away from the bullying I faced every day at school. I made friends there who remained friends for my entire 13 years of drama school. It gave me a social life that would have never been possible otherwise.
3. My drama school had a theatre attached to it where we ran about 3-4 musicals/pantomimes a year. Whilst this gave me many opportunities over the years to be in productions, the theatre also allowed us students to learn many theatre trades such as lighting, sound, stage management, set design & construction etc. Many of my fellow class mates went on to work in these areas professionally. We also worked as ushers, program sellers and in the box office & canteen. Through doing these jobs, I learnt not only valuable skills I could take into my working life but also how to interact with complete strangers.
4. Because of the years of drama classes I did, I can now basically ‘perform’ when I’m in social settings. I still don’t find them comfortable or enjoyable but I can survive them for a couple of hours. I’m able to hide the outward signs of my Aspergers so that most people who meet me are unaware that I even have it. I know this sounds a little disingenuous and deceitful but it has helped me get through life.
I would encourage every parent of a child with Aspergers or autism to enroll them in their local drama school. Not every kid is going to enjoy the classes, like I did, but it is worth persisting with for at least a semester. If your kid still hates it after that, then let them stop doing them. They aren’t going to learn anything from an activity they find painful and upsetting to do. However, for the kids that do enjoy the classes, the benefits they can get from them can be life changing.
For those of you living in LA, check out The Miracle Project – a fantastic theatre and film program for kids with special needs such as autism and their siblings.
If anyone has any recommendations of theatre/drama programs for kids with special needs in other areas/countries, please let me know and I will add them to this post.