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Shakespeare Takes Center Stage In Autism Study
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Story By: Larry Stine



  Originally Published on: 4/6/2014

He's inspired millions of people for hundreds of years. And now, researchers hope to use the works of William Shakespeare in a whole new way. A new study is underway to see if Shakespearian plays can help children with autism. With more on this novel approach, here's Clark Powell. When it comes to putting on plays, most elementary schools are most likely to present Suess rather than Shakespeare. But this isn't just any production. All of these students struggle with Autism. But for some reason, researchers are finding, many respond to Shakespeare. "It's quite amazing to see how a Shakesspearian play can be transformed into, really, a therapeutic intervention," says Dr. Marc Tasse of Ohio State Unversity's Wexner Medical Center. It's an idea that actually began several years ago in London. Kelly Hunter, an actress with the Royal Shakespearian Theatre, started a program for children with Autism. Her idea was to use the exaggerated voices and facial expressions of Shakespeare, to teach children who have trouble communicating. Now, she's teaming up with researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Nisonger Center, to see if there is some science behind her art. Renowned for their studies on Autism, doctors here will chart the students' progress for 42 weeks. But, already some kids are responding to Shakespeare, like they've never responded before. "Some of these children have aides with them, that are present to help out with whatever," says Robin Post of the OSU Department of Theater. "And her aide was leaping up and down and in tears and, you know, it was really moving." So far, there are plenty of stories of success, but researchers want proof that it works, something they have seen glimpses of. "The first pilot study we saw some significant improvemtn in communication, significant improvement in social relationships," says Dr. Tasse. As for the actors who volunteer to help, they say whatever the scientific outcomes, this is the role of a lifetime. "There's this opportunity to have this really joyful experience with these kids and I'm really honored, actually, that the children let us," says Post. In addition to having trouble communicating, doctors say many kids with autism struggle with showing emotions. By using Shakespearian plays, actors can teach kids how to express a wide range of emotions in a fun and non-clinical setting. They plan to follow 20 different kids throughout the school year to see what kind of difference it might make.

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