Autism Program Benefits from Chicago Children’s Theatre
On April 16, six members of the Chicago Children’s Theatre put on four interactive sensory activities for 60 children from Elim Christian School’s ACE (Autism Comprehensive Education) Program in the Grand Lobby.
Trinity’s 55 special education majors and six nursing majors, as well as 60 Elim teachers and teacher assistants, participated. The event was part of the theatre’s Red Kite Project, which creates multi-sensory, interactive theatre programming tailored specifically to the needs and interests of children on the autism spectrum.
Together the groups simulated various “environments” for the children to experience. These included “rowing” in a large rubber raft and shaking blue fabric to simulate water; “hiking” and touching both the trees and puppet animals; and enjoying quiet activities such as sitting in a 1- to 3-man tent. The children also played interactive theatre games.
“We appreciated our time together, and everyone learned more about either living with autism or working with children with autism,” said Dr. Patti Powell, associate professor of education and director of Trinity’s Alexander De Jong Center for Special Education. Powell is a recent recipient of the Fulbright Award.
According to Powell, Autism Spectrum Disorder has three defining features, which will generally exhibit before age three:
- A lack of social and emotional reciprocity
- A delay or total absence of spoken language
- Restrictive repetitive patterns of behavior
The combination of these challenges makes experiencing traditional theatre a distinct difficulty for children on the spectrum. Unlike more traditional theatre, Red Kite downplays the use of spoken language and emphasizes a series of sensory experiences rather than the progression of a plot.