Role playing to better understand emotions

Role playing

By Parasuram Ramamoorthi, Ph.D.

To understand role play means you know the difference between natural behavior and acting behavior. In the case of young adults with ASD, we teach acting behavior through role playing, and through this we teach what is socially acceptable natural behavior.

Western theater depends too much on the Spoken Word (suit your word to action and action to word) whereas Indian and Oriental theater places more importance on Body-Speak. For young adults with ASD who are non-verbal it is important to know they too can act with the proper training and support. One can consciously transmit gnostic and emotional intelligence through gesture and posture to an audience. One needs only to view a Kathakali1 or Yakshagana2 performance to get trained by Masters. The Indian Theater Manual Nāṭya Śāstra3 speaks of the Aangikam (Body-Speak) – the way an actors entire body speaks to their audience.

role playing
Practicing Waiting through Role Play

One can learn these waiting feelings through role play: waiting for a lover, waiting for some news, waiting for a job, waiting for a meeting, waiting for an interview – all these may be waiting but each waiting is different and requires a different posture and gesture. Try role playing these situations today.

role playing

Simulating an Emotion through Role Play

Role Play is an effective technique to teach emotions to people with ASD. This does not require verbal speech. Sometimes sounds are good enough. Say “Aaha” out loud. Say “Aaha” in various pitches, say “Aaha” to depict the different emotions. If these sounds are not possible to verbalize then try to simulate the emotions through gesture and postures.

Body Sculpt Images

Body Sculpt Images is a theater exercise by which we can train young persons with ASD on basic emotions. Body Sculpt happiness, fear, anger, love or pity. This is a fun way of teaching emotions and through Emotions Role Play.

A game we can play today

Please give me a hug. Now give me a hug full of love. Now hug me to pacify my anger. Hug me to express sympathy.

Through these techniques we can connect our bodies to our emotions. We learn how to receive and give emotion through role play.

Editor’s note: This is relevant for all people, not only people with ASD. Role playing is a great tool.



1. [Kathakali is a stylized classical Indian dance-drama noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements presented in tune with the anchor playback music and complementary percussion.]

2. [Yakshagana is a folk theater form that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, make-up, and stage techniques with a unique style and form.]

3. [The Nāṭya Śāstra is a Sanskrit Hindu text on the performing arts.[1][2] The text is attributed to sage Bharata, and its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE,but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE. The text consists of 36 chapters with a cumulative total of 6000 poetic verses describing performance arts. The subjects covered by the treatise include dramatic composition, structure of a play and the construction of a stage to host it, genres of acting, body movements, make up and costumes, role and goals of an art director, the musical scales, musical instruments and the integration of music with art performance.]


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.

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