Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are currently viewed as presenting impairments in several important areas, including socialization, communication, and imagination (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Wing & Gould, 1979). As a result, they may benefit from interventions that aim to increase competence in these areas. This study examines the efficacy of Integrated Drama Groups (IDG), a proposed new application of the Integrated Play Groups (IPG) model, an established research-based invention (Wolfberg, 2009). IDGs apply the guiding principles of the IPG model to a group focused on drama and improvisation. The goal of an IDG is to allow children with ASD to increase their social understanding and competence in a fun and supportive environment while making friends and building dramatic skills.
Each of three groups was comprised of one child with autism and three typically developing peers. Using a mixed-methods design which incorporated a multiple-baseline study across subjects, a qualitative examination of field notes taken during IDG, and interviews with caregivers of the primary participants, the present study examined whether or not exposure to IDG led to changes in the social play, symbolic play, initiations, responses to initiations, and joint engagement of the three children with ASD. As an additional measure, the child version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) was used to determine whether participants showed improvement in reading external emotional cues as a result of their involvement. Intervention fidelity, generalization, and social validity were addressed.
Results indicate that a drama-based intervention can be successful at improving some of the spontaneous play skills of children with ASD. All three primary participants showed improvement in their social and symbolic play skills, willingness to accept the ideas of others, and spontaneous joint engagement. All three caregivers considered the IDG to be a valuable investment of their children's time which led to significant change in their lives outside of the groups. Exposure to the IDG had no discernible effect on participants' scores on the Eyes Test. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.