Study uncovers new approach to autism

March 24, 2014 by K. Scoggins
Study uncovers new approach to autism

In a Kent research project entitled Imagining Autism, children with autism engaged in a series of interactive sensory environments such as 'outer space', 'under the sea' and 'the arctic'. Each environment was designed for them to encounter a range of stimuli and respond to triggers created through lighting, sound, physical action and puppetry.

Using trained performers in each of the environments, the work aimed to promote communication, socialisation, playful interaction, and creative engagement, encouraging the children involved to find new ways of connecting with the world around them.

The research found changes in children's behaviour, including changes in several areas identified as deficits in autism, such as social interaction and emotion recognition. The severity of autistic symptoms displayed by the children, which were rated by their parents and teaching staff were also found to decrease significantly.

All of the children who took part in the research showed at least some improvements on at least one of the measures used to monitor change during the research, with over three quarters of them showing changes to more than one.

Furthermore, just under one third of children who took part in the project showed significant changes on a measure of . Substantial changes in children's behaviour at home were also reported by some families.

Study uncovers new approach to autism

The research was conducted in special needs schools across Kent, including one residential school run by the National Autistic Society (NAS). The practical methods used in the project are currently being trialled at all NAS schools across the UK and are also being developed into training programmes for teachers, care workers, families, arts practitioners, and health professionals.

Principal Investigator, Professor Nicola Shaughnessy, of the University's School of Arts, said: 'Imagining Autism has been an extremely exciting collaboration producing a number of really interesting outcomes and new discussions between arts and science research. We are delighted that the extremely positive responses to the work from all involved with the project have been endorsed by statistical results.

'The methods we used in the research have been recognised as having potential for development in the diagnosis of autism, revealing areas of ability, as well as difficulty. The work has also offered insights into the imagination of children with autism and the importance of play-based approaches which can often be overlooked post-diagnosis.'

Unlike previous drama-based interventions, the study employed a variety of assessment techniques, undertaken by psychologists of the University's Tizard Centre and School of Psychology. These included both formal, psychological research tools, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale, alongside feedback from teachers and families whose children took part in the project.

Dr Julie Beadle-Brown of the University's Tizard Centre said: 'This was a pilot study to explore whether drama based interventions can make an impact on children with . We are pleased with the results and believe that this study has provided strong enough evidence to justify further research into the impact of the intervention on with a range of different needs, as well as research to help us understand how and why the intervention appears to work.'

Explore further: ECHOES: Technology use in the classroom helps autistic children communicate

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Autism biomarker seen as boon for new treatments

January 11, 2017

Researchers at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment have identified a signature brain-wave pattern for children with autism spectrum disorder related to a genetic condition known as Dup15q syndrome. The research ...

Lab confirms vitamin D link to autism traits

December 14, 2016

Researchers at The University of Queensland's Queensland Brain Institute have found a link between vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy and increased autism traits.

Neuromotor problems at the core of autism, study says

December 12, 2016

Rutgers neuroscientists have established that problems controlling bodily movements are at the core of autism spectrum disorders and that the use of psychotropic medications to treat autism in children often makes such neuromotor ...

Mutations in life's 'essential genes' tied to autism

December 12, 2016

Genes known to be essential to life—the ones humans need to survive and thrive in the womb—also play a critical role in the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), suggests a new study from Penn Medicine geneticists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.