Improv is Powerful Therapy: Moving Beyond ASD

When Improvised Therapy launched in 2014, it was right after a very inspiring camping trip with the brilliant Monica Shaw. She encouraged me to go with my instincts and find a way to bring what I saw as the perfect opportunity for fun and therapy to my fellow clinicians. Thank God I’m not alone! Many professionals are now lauding the benefits of theater as an intervention tool. A recent study from Vanderbilt, which The Atlantic Monthly popularized, specifically addressed the ways theater directly targets the hallmark barriers of children with  ASD, including social competency and group play. The article even mentions two more research groups engaged in therapeutic theater and interviews several clinicians who all seem to be on this same page.

However, the focus of this research has been on children and young adults on the Autism Spectrum, and for good reason. The human connections theater challenges are the same areas that this population needs. But it is not this population alone. Community re-entry is a significant barrier for people with TBI, and the hallmark feature of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)  is the inability to complete independent activities of daily living, particularly work-based activities that challenge higher-level cognitive tasks. It is encouraging to see researchers expand their scope and start looking at other areas of social-cognition and executive function to include our patients with TBI and MCI and perhaps mild dementiaIn fact, a MacArthur Fellowship was awarded to Anne Basting in 2016 for her work at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for using improv techniques and narrative-based approaches to adults with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in a program called TimeSlips®.

Have you used improv or other theater techniques in this population? If so, have you observed the same benefits? Feel free to share your success stories here and the unique challenges these groups face… The show must go on!

Published by Rachel Kammeyer, MA, CCC-SLP

An SLP with a passion for evidence-based fun!

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