In June, I had the amazing opportunity to work with 3 Tier Consulting (http://3-tier.org/home/ check out some of their amazing blogs and work) and some fabulous kids who are also kids with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome. We were doing theatre/dramatic play/acting and playbuilding exercises and games, partly because yes, those skills are what those kids need to analyze and memorize social cues and responses, but also because it's fun and develops social awareness for anyone!
Were they scared at first? HECK yes. Another opportunity to not understand what is going on and feel out of place. Great. But once they realize that it's the OPPOSITE of an informal social setting, they take to it like a duck to water. Of course the do! Even in an improv exercise, the facilitator sets out clear, strict relationship, narrative, agenda, and 'milemarker' guidelines, often providing 'line kernels' when not providing the lines themselves. And scripts? Especially short funny ones full of foibles by "regular" people that involve saying cool things to your peers and impressing dudes/chicks? DOUBLE HECK yeah. Over time, the safety and comfort of the class structure brings a freedom and joy not available elsewhere. One of the joys of performance for anyone is the opportunity to relinquish yourself to the script, to say things and do things that are completely new because you are pretending to be someone else. A perfect place to test drive a response to a social moment for anyone, or to work through, via a character, a problem or fear. Check out the incredible website for Autism Theatre Network here.
There is currently lots of blogging and research done on these kinds of topics, albeit few professionals who incorporate a theatrical approach/encourage a child with autism to do the school play. But that number is growing. Below are some links to help you learn more. You can also go to your twitter account and search #autism-- great way to keep abreast of the latest happenings and ideas. There's great book if you want to incorporate theatre into your practice, or to help you theatre people feel more at home with kids who have Asperger's "Teaching Asperger's Students Social Skills Through Acting: All Their World Is a Stage!" by Amelia Davies.
I want to close by recommending checking out the Teaching Artists Journal. I keep up with the blog called "alt space" and this article takes an amazing look at teaching/learning, different brain happenings and learning styles, and the role of the arts in that.