Researchers use theater to help autistic kids - WSMV Channel 4

Researchers use theater to help autistic kids

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Vanderbilt researchers are studying to see if involving autistic children with theater can be a form of therapy.

For children with autism, communicating and interacting with others can be a challenge.

Dr. Blythe Corbett has spent years studying children with autism. She's also worked as a professional actress.

As founder of Sense Theatre, Corbett is using the two-week camp at Vanderbilt University as a way to study and improve the social and emotional behavior of autistic children.

"A lot of the children, when they first came into the theater, were pretty apprehensive," said Corbett. "A lot of them stood back quite a bit."

"It's inclusion through fun experiences and games. We never let them go off into the corner like some of them would like. We just keep bringing them on back in."

With help from actors from University School of Nashville, the children learn lines, choreography and are given that extra push.

Tammy Vice, mother of 17-year-old Morgan, can already see the benefits of the camp.

"A lot of times with Morgan it takes more than words, so the music and the action and the excitement is something that naturally gets her engaged," said Vice.

For many of the 12 kids involved in the project, there's a noticeable improvement in their communication and social skills.

During the camp, researchers are also measuring their cortisol levels through saliva samples. The hormone indicates their level of stress. It's compared to tests taken at home each day.

"We'll look at the hormone and see if that's also reflected," said Corbett. "What we're hoping to see is a decrease."

The kids involved in the project had a dress rehearsal on Thursday. They will perform the play on Friday.

Many of these children are really smart. They have memorized the entire play.

But being autistic, some of the kids have a hard time adjusting to change. If one student messes up a line, it may stress another student out because they're used to things being one way.

The camp is also about getting them to adapt to change.

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