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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Becoming Social with the Help of Improv Acting

Article by: Tonya White, Expressive Arts Therapist at NESCA
March 22nd, 2017 

Many children who struggle with socializing and making friends need real practice - but with enough failed attempts, social situations can become a scary thing. Improvisational acting provides a context where a child can “pretend” to socialize within the structure of the games and with the support of counselors.

The games also come with a magic ingredient: FUN

Many of the games involve making one another laugh, getting to play out a character or activity that you enjoy, and getting to share this experience with peers. When a child can feel playful and have fun, they are not acting from a perspective of anxiety and avoidance, but they are naturally motivated to engage. NPR’s All Things Considered recently quoted Jim Ansaldo, who runs Camp Yes And, a summer improv acting camp for teens with autism. Jim says, "What improv really does is create a safe and fun and authentic environment in which to practice, where mistakes really don't matter."

And not only can improv acting provide a safe space to experience social success, the games can be used to directly teach skills that are important for a child to learn and use in order to be successful in other social situations. 

NPR’s All Things Considered also spoke with Rachel Magin, a doctoral student at the The Psychology Lab at Indiana State University who started a class for 6-9 year olds with autism using improv games to teach social skills. Rachel described a game where one child pulls a phrase out of a hat with an emotion written under that is asked to say the phrase while other participants guess the emotion. While very simple, this game allows the acting child and all of the other participants to practice and discuss together how to communicate and interpret emotions.

Beyond the therapeutic setting of these improv acting groups, we can see the power of acting to build confidence and lasting friendships in the comedy troupe Asperger’s Are Us. In a documentary about Asperger’s Are Us, which can now be viewed on Netflix, you see the friendship, hard work, and humor of these four adults with Asperger’s. They met at the Spotlight Program on the North Shore, a program teaching social skills through improv acting. Their website states, “We do not poke fun at Asperger's and we did not form to prove that autistic people can be funny. We formed for the same reason anyone does comedy: To make you laugh!”

NESCA is excited to be offering Acting Games for Social Skills Development group therapy. NESCA’s groups are for children who need to build social skills, who wish to make more friends, and those who experience social anxiety. These groups are for children with Asperger/Autism profiles as well as other profiles such as ADHD, Anxiety, Social Communication Disorder, and more. To learn more about these groups please contact Tonya White at twhite@nesca-newton.com or 617-600-8952.


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