Improvement in Social Competence Using a Randomized Trial of a Theatre Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Abstract

The efficacy of a peer-mediated, theatre-based intervention on social competence in participants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was tested. Thirty 8-to-14 year-olds with ASD were randomly assigned to the treatment (n = 17) or a wait-list control (n = 13) group. Immediately after treatment, group effects were seen on social ability, (d = .77), communication symptoms (d = −.86), group play with toys in the company of peers (d = .77), immediate memory of faces as measured by neuropsychological (d = .75) and ERP methods (d = .93), delayed memory for faces (d = .98), and theory of mind (d = .99). At the 2 month follow-up period, group effects were detected on communication symptoms (d = .82). The results of this pilot clinical trial provide initial support for the efficacy of the theatre-based intervention.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health R34 MH097793 awarded to Blythe Corbett. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIMH or the National Institute of Mental Health. We appreciate the peers, participants, and their families who continue to support our research.

Author Contributions

BC conceived of the SENSE Theatre intervention and study design, conducted peer training, supervised the implementation of the treatment, contributed to diagnostic assessments, and drafted and finalized the manuscript; AK developed the ERP paradigm, conducted the ERPs, analyzed and interpreted the ERP data, and contributed to the manuscript; LQ recruited participants, organized study visits, participated in neuropsychological testing, behavioral coding, and drafting and editing the manuscript; SF participated in peer training, conducted fidelity coding, and participated in data collection and analysis; CN performed diagnostic assessments, conducted neuropsychological testing, and interpretation of clinical findings; CC provided expertise on the theatrical component of the intervention, contributed to the training of the peers, and served as the director of the theatre exercises and performances; PY contributed to study design, supervised statistical analyses and data interpretation, and made significant contributions to the manuscript. All authors read and approved of the final manuscript.

Funding

This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health R34 MH097793 (Corbett), NICHD P30 HD15052 (VKC) and VKC Hobbs Discovery Award (Corbett and Key).

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Correspondence to Blythe A. Corbett.

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Blythe Corbett is the founder of SENSE Theatre 501©(3) but does not receive any financial compensation from the organization. The other authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Corbett, B.A., Key, A.P., Qualls, L. et al. Improvement in Social Competence Using a Randomized Trial of a Theatre Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 658–672 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2600-9

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Theatre
  • Social competence
  • Faces
  • Cognition
  • ERP