Shakespeare acting class helps boy with autism in new method

A series of Shakespeare acting classes have helped a boy with autism.

- For most of us, letting out the family dog is routine. But for 10-year-old Chase Davis, who has autism, this is a breakthrough.

"He is terrified of dogs in general, and he's been more apt to go in and help with the dog or even just help with the household chores in general," says Heather Davis.

What made the difference for Chase wasn't just therapy or medication - it was a series of acting classes centered on an unlikely figure -- William Shakespeare.

"After 10 weeks, the kids that had autism who participated showed significant improvement in their social skills," says Dr. Marc TassÄ—, the director of the Nisonger Center at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

In a new study, he and his team staged an intervention using what's known as the Hunter Heartbeat method.

It's a drama-based intervention developed by British actress Kelly Hunter that uses the rhythm and repetition of lines from Shakespearean plays.

The result is better language skills, more social interaction and, for some, recognition of facial expressions - which is often a challenge for those with autism.

"They're taught these core skills in a very relaxed, playful environment, in which it's almost like they're not aware that they're being taught," says Dr. TassÄ—.

Like many parents, Heather says she was skeptical. But since her son first took the stage, she's noticed a difference.

"It was watching a completely different child for those few moments. And he loved it; he absolutely found pure joy in it," she says.  

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