Tempest Tossed: Shakespeare and Autism
Shakespeare wasnâ€™t writing for an autistic audience, but researchers and thespians at Ohio State University are learning about how his plays can be adapted to both engage and edify people who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Wexner Center for the Arts and WOSU@COSI this week present Shakespeareâ€™s â€œThe Tempest,â€ adapted for audiences with autism. For more information, click here.
Kelly Hunter,Â an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company andÂ director ofÂ â€œThe Tempest,â€ developed the Hunter-Heartbeat method. This therapy uses the rhythm of Shakespeareâ€™s prose to connect with the audience, focusing on the iambic pentameter like a heartbeat.
“The rhythm of the language, which is whereÂ theÂ title of the Hunter-Heartbeat method comes from, is written in the rhythm of a heartbeat,â€ Hunter said. â€œThe iambic pentameter is in the rhythm of a heartbeat and,Â arguably,Â the first sound we hear in the womb before were born. So we sit in a circle to being the play, and when the children come they have this calming experience of making the sound of a heartbeat.â€
SheÂ said thatÂ Shakespeareâ€™s words alsoÂ emotionally motivateÂ the audience through interactive games.
â€œThe games that we play in the show are taken from momentsÂ â€¦Â where Shakespeare is really describing how it feels to be alive,â€ Hunter said. â€œChildren with autism find it very difficult to express their feelings. So the work is really a distillation of what Shakespeare is exploring, which encompasses the idea of making eye contact, and expressing feelings.â€
Robin PostÂ directsÂ the Shakespeare and Autism program at Ohio StateÂ University. SheÂ said theyÂ areÂ studying this methodÂ and thatÂ although the results arenâ€™t final, someÂ appearÂ promising.
â€œItâ€™s a longitudinal,Â 3-year-long research project,â€ Post said. â€œWeâ€™re waiting to find the results, but we have some preliminary results that are really promising. Weâ€™re looking to see whether Kellyâ€™s work, theÂ Hunter HeartbeatÂ Method can affect change to the core features of autism.â€
Currently 1 in 68 children in the US are diagnosed with autism, a rate that has increased 30 percent from 1 in 88 two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Wexner Center for the Arts presents an interactive adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, July 16-20.
- Jeff Siegel, coordinator of the Aspirations autism program at Ohio State
- Carolyn Valek, mom of child with autism
- Scott Valek, participant in Aspirations autism program
- Kelly Hunter, director of The Tempest, adapted for audiences with autism
- Robin Post, director of the Shakespeare and Autism program at Ohio State