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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Stakeholder Perceptions of the Effects of a Public School-Based Theatre Program for Children with ASD


Arts programs are often credited with helping children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) gain cognitive and social skills. As with all claims of transfer from experience in the arts to abilities in non-arts domains, empirical evidence is mixed, and often criticized for both imprecise methodologies and a lack of connection back to the art form itself. Exact measurement of programs’ mechanisms and effects are rare. To investigate the effect of theatre experiences for children with ASD, we completed a systematic study of adult stakeholders of a large, school-based, successful musical theatre program. We found stakeholders emphasized modeling, routines, and relaxation as useful strategies, endorsing that the program built imitation, motor abilities and turn-taking skills. These observations raise questions for standard theories of the effects of arts that focus and accentuate only higher order social and emotional or academic skills, and emphasize the importance of including stakeholders in theorizing and measuring the effects of arts programs for all populations.

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