Lee R. Chasen, PhD, RDT, LCAT, is the Founding Director of Kid Esteem Inc., a ground-breaking non-profit organisation dedicated to the social and emotional vitality and empowerment of children, families, schools, and communities. A drama therapist in private practice, Lee is based in Long Island, New York, USA.
Here Dr Chasen answers some questions about his new book, Social Skills, Emotional Growth and Drama Therapy: Inspiring Connection on the Autism Spectrum.
Tell us about your work with children on the autism spectrum.
I am a drama therapist with over 25 years experience working in public agencies and private practice. I have always been deeply concerned with the negative psychological impact on children and families brought about by the encroachment of commercial and corporate culture into the otherwise sacred intimacy of our personal lives and relationships. With this in mind, my wife and I founded Kid Esteem, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to the social and emotional empowerment of children, families, schools and communities, in 1997. We noticed many children on the spectrum joining our groups structured for typical children, so we created programs to meet the specific and unique social and emotional needs of children on the autism spectrum.
What is the book about, and what is the significance of the mirror?
The book provides a theoretical foundation as well as a comprehensive thirty-session protocol for treating social deficits of autism with drama therapy. It tells the stories of children in the social skills program over the course of a year, illustrating their process and progress while describing specific drama therapy techniques and contexts for treatment. The mirror signifies an important intersect between drama therapy and emerging concepts in neuroscience. Recently discovered mirror neurons have been found to play a key role in developing self-awareness and social connection. Drama and theatre has historically been portrayed as a mirror to the human condition, raising questions and reflecting aspects of how we understand and relate to ourselves and each other. By holding the mirror of drama up to the mirror of social skills building neuron activity, we illuminate previously obscured angles, empowering a practical as well as metaphorical peripheral vision of sorts.
How did you develop the methods in the book, and why are they effective?
The original methods and techniques presented in the book were developed over a number of years by trial and error, based on a foundation of training and experience. The most obvious positive effects have been observed in the joyous and playful spirit of connection and interaction generated by the activities of the program that carry over to increased social activity and mastery at school, family functions and social occasions, as reported by parents and teachers. Plain and simple, the techniques are effective because they are fun, catching the attention and imagination of the participants.
The book is filled with examples and stories of how techniques like Video-modeling, costume, puppetry, improvisation, Power lines scripting and Director’s Chair transform the child’s experience, prompting a deeper awareness and understanding of self and practical application of behavior toward meaningful and sustained connection with another.
For practitioners, what are some important guidelines for using drama therapy with children on the autism spectrum?
- Enter the encounter with the utmost respect for the child, with awareness that on the most important level of functioning, we are all equals.
- Create an exciting and creative context for playful, free-spirited interaction that accepts a range of joyful expression, while at the same time maintains clear boundaries, appropriate expectations and a methodical, supportive approach toward meeting those expectations.
- Use the drama techniques to facilitate and reinforce the language of emotionally intelligent expression in all interactions.
- Provide parents with weekly skills sheets to follow up with at home, constantly reiterating that behavioral change and neurological adaptation will only come with consistent application over time.
- Engage social skills that are process-oriented, and be wary of skills that pressure children to superficially ‘fit in’.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.