The Shakespeare and Autism Project (2011 - 2015) was a groundbreaking, internationally recognized, collaborative research effort between The Ohio State University Department of Theatre and the Wexner Medical Center's Nisonger Center. The project addressed the issue of whether sensory drama games using Shakespeare's text can effectively break through the communicative blocks of autism in children.
The primary activity of the Shakespeare and Autism Project involved teams of trained Ohio State students and instructors playing Shakespeare drama games with children on the spectrum, using the Hunter Heartbeat Method, created by Kelly Hunter, Artistic Director of Flute Theatre in the UK. The Nisonger Center researchers administered tests throughout the workshop process to generate data and determine the work's effectiveness in piercing the core features of autism.
Describing the Hunter Heartbeat Method, Hunter states, “The distinctive methodology I have created uses Shakespeare to release the communicative blocks within children with autism. Two major themes underpin the work: the rhythm of the iambic pentameter, which creates the sound of a heartbeat, within which the children feel safe to communicate. The second is an exploration of the mind’s eye, allowing children to explore imaginative worlds, which may be otherwise locked away."
The Shakespeare and Autism Project was led by Kevin McClatchy, associate professor in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Media Arts. Under McClatchy’s supervision, teams of Ohio State students brought Hunter’s work to children throughout Central Ohio.
Originally funded in 2010 by an Ohio State University Outreach and Engagement Impact Grant, the Shakespeare and Autism Project is now part of the department’s curriculum. The project receives additional funding from the Patricia Heaton-Hunt and David Hunt Shakespeare and Autism Fund.
Since its inception, the Shakespeare and Autism Project has reached nearly 400 children through workshops and interactive performances of The Tempest, trained dozens of Ohio State students as well as theatre professionals and educators across the country in the Hunter Heartbeat Method, and has begun publishing scientific research in support of the intervention's effectiveness. The impact of Shakespeare and Autism Project and its collaborative partners continues to grow, reaching people locally, nationally, and internationally.