26th March – 2nd April 2018
World Autism Awareness Week www.autism.org.uk
Roundabout works across London supporting children and adults with autism.
‘Over the last thirty years and more, dramatherapists have been working in the field of autism providing dedicated service and achieving life-changing outcomes with clients’ Seymour & Haythorne from Dramatherapy and Autism https://www.routledge.com/Dramatherapy-and-Autism/Haythorne-Seymour/p/book/9781138827172
Connecting with powerful feelings can be threatening for children, especially those on the autistic spectrum. Dramatherapy offers lots of different routes into feelings.
In the early stages of working in a group it was clear that the sessions offered Claire the opportunity to explore challenging peer relationships as both of the children found some difficulty in sharing the space. Claire showed aspects of needing to take control, such as becoming overly diligent about making sure that she had enough time for her ideas to be seen and heard, especially in the ‘news’ part of the session. And there were times when Claire seemed uncertain about how to manage the various feelings that were brought to the group, hers and other people’s. However, as the relationships developed, Claire relaxed more and demonstrated an emerging sensitivity, showing empathy and care. In one session Claire recognised that her peer had some sad feelings; she respond to this by listening carefully, allowing time and asking appropriate questions. The next week, Claire chose to bring a gift into the session to share with her peer.
In the reflection part of the sessions she spoke about this, saying that she had ‘helped’; as she spoke there was a real sense of pride in her kindness and attention to the relationship. This was a very positive learning outcome for Claire, allowing her to navigate the kinds of signals and exchanges in everyday conversation that a child with ASD might otherwise find more difficult. This was also reflected in her play, which became much more fluid and creative because Claire was able to trust her instincts and flow into more carefree and spontaneous play, seeming more joyful and contented.
Initially, Allam presented as quiet; he physically turned away from us as we said ‘hello’ to each other and offered little eye contact, or facial or vocal expression. He did take part in the hello/goodbye ritual and did share some news; he tentatively explored some of the ‘feelings’ books we had in the room, and then looked at some of the toys, objects and puppets. Allam was very drawn to playing with the puppets, exploring putting them on his hands and animating them, giving them words and moving them around in the room. Through playing with the animal puppets Allam expressed himself in a creative and imaginative way; he created new stories, different characters with their own thoughts and feelings, and interacted with the dramatherapists in a spontaneous and improvised way, at times laughing and smiling, and he seemed to physically relax in the space.
During the sessions, Allam became adept at incorporating games from the playground into his narratives and the session. This afforded him the chance to explore competitive friendships, being part of a team, and family dynamics.
In the stories which Barry enacted, he would cast one of the dramatherapists in the ‘villain’ role, whilst he would take the ‘hero’ role. As the hero, he would catch the villain, who represented danger and unpredictability in the world. Because of the trust and playfulness which had developed between the dramatherapists and Barry, he was able to be stimulated and excited by this fictional danger, but still have a clear understanding of the boundaries between acting and reality. His hero character expressed aggressive impulses in a way which was safe and contained. Exploring emotions in this way helped him to understand and learn to manage his own difficult feelings, by experiencing and examining the feelings of a character in a story. As Barry developed his hero character, we were aware of the growing confidence in his voice. As well as being an actor in the story, he also took the role of director of the scenes, sustaining the action and adding new ideas. It was encouraging to see how despite his inclination to lead the action, he welcomed our ideas and suggestions.
The growing confidence seen in the dramatherapy sessions was reflected in his class and in peer relationships. His teacher reported that he was engaging in lots of play with his peers, and that he often took a leading role in their games, which the other children valued.
Jane found her own unique way of accessing emotions by using a range of these different techniques in sequence.
She began by drawing a story which the dramatherapists quietly observed. The dramatherapists then begin to act out the story, with Jane simultaneously drawing and witnessing the enactment. The next stage was for Jane to start voicing one of the characters as she continued to draw. This progressed into a full enactment, where Jane stopped drawing, and joined the dramatherapists as an actor in the story. Finding this safe route was key to allowing Jane to explore her confusion around conflicting emotions. She was able to play characters who initially seem benevolent, but then suddenly changed into violent or destructive villains. Anger appeared as if from no-where, and this was maybe how Jane experienced her own emotions.
Names have been changed to protect confidentiality
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