Theatre Activities for Students with Special Needs – post 1 of many, I’m sure

I went to two sessions at the AATE/ATHE conference that dealt with this subject (specifically with students on the Autistic Spectrum) and I wish there had been more!  The first session addressing this subject that I went to was Autism: Strengthening Social Skills Through Drama. Special thanks to Lauri McCleneghan and John Muszynski of Maine South High School for sharing their work in a classroom that is purposely mixed with students on the autistic spectrum and those who are not, and sharing their strategies for creating social and theatrical challenges for both groups. The other session I attended was Autism Action: Drama Classes for Young People with Autism, presented by Brian Guehring, Sue Gillespie Booton, and Michael Harrelson of Omaha Theater Company, and focusing on drama classes coordinated by a professional theatre company. I’m glad that more schools and theatres are experimenting with ways to reach kids with autism– in my former position I had several experiences where I felt rather isolated in trying to adapt drama programs for students on the autistic spectrum, and I know there are many theatre education practitioners out there who’ve had the same experience.

When I was in grad school I had a friend who pointed out to me that the “Special Education” professors often had better syllabi than the regular “Education” professors. It was one of those things I never noticed until it was pointed out and thereafter noticed everywhere I went. Somehow the training to work with students with special needs seemed to translate to a better ability to put together an organized syllabus, and to be able to differentiate instruction on the college level in a way that I otherwise have not encountered. Perhaps this is why I would say the best resource I have found has been VSA Arts— so many of the presenters have strong special education backgrounds.  I’ve only been to one conference of theirs, in 2006, but it was fantastic– every workshop filled with practical use-tomorrow strategies and outstanding handouts. I wish they had conferences more often, I would go all the time!

I am interested in hearing about anyone’s favorite resources, books, activities, and/or websites for adapting drama instruction for any of young people with special needs. I’m especially interested in any insights into adapting dramatic play activities  for students PreK-Grade 3 who are on the autism spectrum and/or multiple disabilities, but any and all experiences and insights are welcome!

Question for the World: What are the best resources you’ve found so far that have assisted you in better meeting the needs of students with special needs?


One Response to “Theatre Activities for Students with Special Needs – post 1 of many, I’m sure”

  1. Emely Says:

    I have had a very similar experience. I have encountered many students on the spectrum. Having no training in this area, I have searched for anything to help. One book I found both interesting and helpful is “Special Talents, Special Needs: Drama for People with Learning Disabilities” by Barbara Darnly It covers many different areas of special needs students and offers interesting activities.

    The thing that I have found most difficult when working with students on the spectrum is how very different they all are. You really have to get to know the student in order to know what will work and what won’t. Often in our class settings, there is not enough time to get to that point and it can be very frustrating. I was lucky this year – I had (may still have) a student on the spectrum who has taken classes with me since January. This summer, he was in a show that I directed. I have learned a lot about him and how he responds to lessons and situations and I now feel more comfortable working with him. However, this is not a luxury that we have with most students.

    I welcome any additional information anyone else has on this subject!

    Thanks for the blog Nora – I check it often!

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