Drama Therapy – Skill Development in ASD

Drama Therapy – Skill Development in ASD

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have difficulties developing skills connected to the concept of Theory of Mind.  According to Psychology Today, Theory of Mind involves “understanding another person’s knowledge, beliefs, emotions, and intentions and using that understanding to navigate social situations.”  A creative strategy known as Drama therapy is used to help build these skills, which is supplemented with more traditional treatments in clinical settings such as Applied Behavioral Analysis.  MSR News Online describes the techniques seen in Drama therapy as “exercises commonly practiced in the theatre such as scene acting, improvisation, and physical acting.”  This outlet provides a fun atmosphere for individuals with ASD to develop skills in a fun environment with their peers.

Drama Therapy works to improve Theory of Mind in individuals with ASD by allowing them to take on the role of a character.  It encourages adolescents to get in the mind of fictitious characters within social interactions. This helps individuals develop skills in empathy and understand the feelings and behaviors of others through these theatrical transformations. As described in, “The Effects of Drama Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” a study conducted as an honors thesis at Bowling Green State University by Katie O’Leary, “Children on the spectrum want social connections as well, and drama therapy helps a child learn how to relate to others by actually becoming another person through a character on stage (Bailey, 2010).”

In O’Leary’s study, she describes exactly how Theory of Mind skill can be achieved through drama therapy.  She states that “various social situations can be modeled and role-played giving the child a solid level of comfort and familiarity with the situation so that when social interaction is encountered in real life, the child can engage in a more normal manner.”  Drama Therapy works to prepare individuals for social interactions which they will ultimately encounter in their own lives.  Handling these social situations while working towards certain developmental steps in a fun and expressive way allows those with ASD to master these skills.  O’Leary asserts that the drama therapy improved their individuals’ skills for, “working with others, interacting and engaging with peers, learning parts for the performance, concentrating his physical body in games and exercises, and learning how to behave through a different character that each student was assigned as an actor.” The benefits obtained by drama therapy give these individuals more confidence in their social interactions outside of the theatre. Having more confidence will lead to a more fulfilling and successful social experience.

The benefits of drama therapy are not only limited to the acquisition of skills related to Theory of Mind. According to MSR News Online, individuals who participate in drama therapy experience, “increased self-confidence, improve self-esteem and pride in their accomplishments, improve recognition of emotions in others, improve identification and labeling of their own emotions, enjoy new leisure-time activity in a group where they can be successful, enjoy a new awareness of volume levels and beginning modulation of vocal levels, enjoy new skills for functioning as part of a group, enjoy new skills for following directions, improve the ability to interact with peers.”  The benefits of this type of therapy are invaluable for persons on the spectrum.  


MD, Dr. Charles Crutchfield III, et al. “Home.” MSR News Online, 24 Nov. 2017, spokesman-recorder.com/2017/11/24/drama-therapy-new-tool-help-autism/

O’Leary, Katie. “The Effects of Drama Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Scholarworks.bgsu.edu, 16 Dec. 2013, scholarworks.bgsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgiarticle=1002&context=honorsprojects

Thompson, Brittany. “Theory of Mind: Understanding Others in a Social World.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 3 July 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/socioemotionalsuccess/201707/theory-mind-understanding-others-in-social-world

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