Autism Spectrum and the Theater

Parasuram Ramamoorthi

Suggestions on participation in theater productions

By Parasuram Ramamoorthi, Ph.D.

Drama therapy can benefit autistic children and adults. Drama helps the individual to realize his/her potential through acting out roles and engaging in creative play.

Behavioral issues such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning, repetition are not treated in isolation. They are seen as stimuli and an opportunity to express themselves through Drama. Hand flapping becomes drumming; rocking becomes movement on stage; repetition in voice patterns leads to singing with ease.

Violence and aggression are not natural. They are often the result of sensory overload. Many times aggressive behavior is caused by the people around the child or adult. It is a reaction and not an action of itself. Drama and acting provides an opportunity to let out those angry and aggressive feelings in a safe environment. One can be violent on stage without hurting the other person. Role playing helps let out emotions such as anger, fear, and aggression.

Social skills can best be taught with drama. An example would be three people on a stage doing a scene. Each one responding to the other , helping each other, working together, dancing to one of them singing or playing an instrument. This is a safe way to socialize.

Inclusion happens on stage as a natural result  of people working together to make the performance – actors, musicians, the stage crew and audience are all part of the process.

The most important aspect about drama for autism is that it teaches a person to connect with themselves. The self is being played or the self is being masked. One connects with the self.

Drama is about connecting – with the self; with others on and off stage; with the audience; and with the space. Through drama one is able to discern between what is public and private space.

You don’t have to be verbal to participate. Speech is only one mode of communication. Drama insists on speaking with the eyes, face, limbs, hands, fingers and the whole body.  Where speech is lacking, the body speaks.

Velvi Drama for Autism Online Course trains parents and teachers to view autism from a different perspective. Not every behavior is a problem. Every behavior may have a reason. It is possible to change the behavior into something creative.

There are so many ways to participate in stage performances that can highlight a person’s interests and skills. A participant may write a script, revise it and rewrite it. A participant may sell tickets to show they have Interpersonal Intelligence. A participant may be an actor or design the sets, the costumes, or the lighting. A musician may compose music. If you are good at accounting, you can do the books. Last and not least, are you a good cook? Make a meal and feed the actors.


Professor Ramamoorthi  has been working in the field of Arts for Autism since 2003 and has conducted workshops on drama for autism in Europe/England /USA and in several parts of India. He has published a pamphlet  Autism: A puzzle which has been translated into Malayalam and Tamil.He is the Editor of the first volume of the Journal ARTRAN , a journal of Autism professionals. He has also produced an Educational DVD called Drama for Autism. Director of the Online course Drama for Autism since 2012 Jan. Has trained a hundred parents and professionals in techniques of Drama for Autism across the Globe. Profess Ramamorrthi is mentoring young persons on the spectrum throughout the world by online counseling and training through VELVI a trust based at Madurai. He is one of the strong advocates of Art as a career option for young people in the spectrum.

Photograph by S. James

One reply on “Autism Spectrum and the Theater”
  1. I started acting in school and camp plays at a very young age because I had a very loud voice, could read, and could carry a tune. This turned out to be very lucky for me: it allowed me to try out being someone else. Actually two someone elses in each play: the role I was playing and the writer (when acting you need to learn the “motive” behind your lines).

    When playing a character written by someone else, I could speak without social anxiety. First, it was not “me” on stage; it was someone else concocted of the writer’s words and intentions, my interpretation of that, and the director’s adjustment of my interpretation. It wasn’t “me”, and any opprobrium or disappointment with the character’s actions wasn’t about me.

    In addition, when rehearsing a play, I could engage in social interactions without having to figure out what to say or what the other characters’ responses meant: in short, without the stress of worrying whether I was interacting correctly. (As a bonus, the occasional tantrum is a part of acting culture, so no one questions your mental health if you throw one.)

    It was a wonderful way to “try out” different ways to express thoughts and emotions. And the director and other actors provided real-time commentary on how successful I was.

    By the time an audience was admitted to a play, I was in character, and my character cared only for what happened in her fictional world. And so I painlessly learned a set of coping strategies, and got kudos from peers.

    Perhaps future technology will provide access to an AI who can provide real time commentary translating what someone else is saying to us into terms we can understand, and suggesting ways to respond. But for right now, there are plays.

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