SENSE Theatre production of “The Adult School” brings together diverse cast
The goal of the SENSE Theatre program is to improve the social and emotional functioning of individuals with autism spectrum disorder through using behavioral and theater techniques.October 28, 2021
Blythe Corbett, PhD, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator, encourages performers during a SENSE Theatre dress rehearsal for the production of “The Adult School.”
All photos by Erin O. Smith
The SENSE Theatre production, “The Adult School,” centers around a group of students who do not see the benefits of growing up until they meet a teacher who gives them the inspiration to do so.
But the story on the stage is no match for the story of the performers.
The goal of the SENSE Theatre program is to improve the social and emotional functioning of individuals with autism spectrum disorder through using behavioral and theater techniques. The individuals with autism spectrum disorder are paired with trained typically developing actors who serve as expert models of social interaction as well as co-actors on the stage. The theater is home to interactive communication and imagination providing a natural environment for enhancing many areas of functioning that may be challenging for individuals with autism.
SENSE Theatre was founded by Blythe Corbett, PhD, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator, in 2009 as a nonprofit to blend the disciplines of art and science to create a supportive, performance-based, social skills intervention. Corbett, who wrote “The Adult School,” also serves as the director of the SENSE lab. The program is peer-mediated and the trained peers are members of the Vanderbilt University student body or part of Corbett’s research team.
While a majority of Corbett’s previous work has focused on children and adolescents, this SENSE Theatre program was unique in that it involved seven adults on the autism spectrum between 18 and 35 years old. The adults involved were part of a randomized clinical trial funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Thus far, 20 adult participants have been part of the ongoing study. SENSE Theatre is also supported by ACM Lifting Lives, a charity associated with the Academy of Country Music which helps fund national music therapy programs.
The program is a collaborative partnership among SENSE Theatre, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and the Vanderbilt University Theatre Department.