Taking it to the next stage

Course uses drama to help those on the autism spectrum improve social interaction

Clinton Chapdelaine, who has Asperger syndrome, always struggled with social skills before attending high school in Bedford.

But after he got there, he realized he could overcome this barrier by taking a dose of drama.

“The hardest thing is just getting yourself to come out of your shell and sort of forcing yourself to want to interact with people, and it’s so much easier with drama, because not only is it just an integral part of it, but it’s a little bit easier because you’re not really being you,” said Chapdelaine, 27.

He has co-created a new drama group called Social Learning In Drama Education (SLIDE) after deciding he wanted to share his secret with others who have autism and struggle socially.

SLIDE is “a non-committal drama class in HRM aimed toward those on the autistic spectrum who want to meet new people and work on social interaction skills in a fun, supportive way, free of imposing structure,” said an ad for the organization.

“It’s a lot less pressure,” said Chapdelaine, who also co-founded the Wildfire Theatre Society but is taking a break to focus on SLIDE.

Brenna Meagher, the other half of the SLIDE team, also personally advocates drama’s benefit in helping with social interaction, and she has the professional credentials to back up her beliefs.

“I grew up with depression and anxiety, and (drama) was something that helped me immensely,” Meagher said. “I could be having an anxiety attack, but I could also focus my mind and act my way out of it so people wouldn’t be seeing me have the attack in public.”

She has a degree in applied drama in community, which uses acting to educate others, improve lives and create communities.

“Part of it was focusing on how to use drama to help people overcome various challenges, and it fits perfectly with autism, especially because sometimes it can be kind of hard to read people. But that’s what drama is about; it’s about reading people and studying people.”

Meagher referred to studies on the difficulty of perspective-taking with autism that support the use of drama as a fun form of instruction.

And so apart from being a social event, the drama class — always a safe space for people to express themselves — will be used to teach about social interactions. One of the main improv games that will be played will go over different genres in film and the styles of acting involved.

Their first session, last Tuesday, had three participants turn out. Although they didn’t want to be interviewed, they did tell Chapdelaine and Meagher that “they had a lot of fun, were surprised at how comfortable they were and were not as shy as usual.”

Although anyone is welcome to attend, the two organizers are seeking interested individuals in their late teens and early 20s because this is the age where school and related programs may leave people cut off from social interactions.

For those interested in coming to the next session, it costs $10 and takes place on Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the George Dixon Memorial Recreational Community Centre in Halifax.

The entrance is on Gottingen Street.

The organizers can be reached at slidedramafun@gmail.com.

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