By Andrea Byrne
Behind the Scenes: School of Drama’s main aim is to help build confidence in their students so that they can channel their creative talents through drama and theatre. Their objective is the development of the student through drama. Something that sets them apart from other drama schools is that they also have classes for students with special needs.
According to Down Syndrome Ireland, people with down syndrome are good communicators but find it difficult to interact socially from a young age. This is due to hearing or phonological (understanding sentence structure) difficulties, a weak processing of auditory information and their anatomical and physiological differences.
Co-owner of Behind the Scenes and drama teacher, Lachlan Kiss said: “For students with special needs, drama can be a new and unique place where they can explore a creative side of themselves, a side which they mightn’t have explored very much. Drama is also a tool and an activity which doesn’t discriminate, which for students with special needs can be great, as it allows anyone with any sort of disability to take part and get the most out of the experience.
“The best way I find I get the most out of my students is through encouragement and high energy. The students always respond well when the environment around them is one which feels exciting, but also is respectful of their limits or inhibitions. By exploring things which feel familiar to my students, I find that I am able to get a lot from them, so finding out what they’re passionate about and what they are interested in can greatly help with structuring my classes and my plans.” He continued.
Speech and language are two major skills that are essential to the development of mental abilities, such as reasoning, remembering and thinking, as well as social inclusion. Drama is extremely beneficial for students with special needs for the same reasons that drama is beneficial to everyone. It helps greatly with communication skills, as well as confidence because drama provides a safe place for students to express themselves.
He said: “I think drama is a subject and a hobby which should be addressed more in almost every facet of our society. It is something which I believe all people, especially children, can gain something very valuable from, and I don’t think it is any different for students with special needs. It is incredibly important that students are given a space to express themselves creatively and drama is something which provides them with this tool.
“Each and every student I have taught has responded with such great enthusiasm and our weekly classes often become one of their favourite parts of the week. Drama is also so important when it comes to developing communication skills, especially for students who may be non-verbal or who have difficulty with communicating. When given a carefree space to communicate in a creative way, one will see an incredible growth in almost every student, a growth which they wouldn’t have found without drama.”
According to Down Syndrome Ireland, children with down syndrome generally learn better through visual learning such as demonstration, rather than through verbal instruction alone. Often it is better to learn through the support of pictures, gestures and or objects. Drama is all about using ones hands, faces and bodies to communicate which is extremely beneficial for students with down syndrome as their strengths include gesture, mime and imitation.
Kiss said: “Often when students begin a term with us, it can take a few classes for them to feel more comfortable. But our classes are geared around trying to create a comfortable space for every student, whether they are very outspoken or very quiet. It is important to be aware of each student’s comfort zone and to help extend this zone slightly every week.
“With a mixture of dance, acting, mime and improvisation we are able to cater to all interests and because of this, each student is given an opportunity to flourish and partake in activities which they feel both comfortable and nervous in. By the end of a term, I often find that students have dropped almost all inhibitions they may have had at the beginning. This process is often a cycle, with particular students showing both rises and dips in their confidence but with each cycle I can see a marked difference in how the students approach the class, an approach which I’d describe as becoming more open, comfortable and creative.”
Drama is an invaluable skill for children with special needs as it is beneficial in creating skills such as storytelling, learning how to express their emotions and feelings through improvisation and plays, and for the individual it gives them a chance to express themselves and to be part of a community.
Kiss finished up by saying, “I think funding for arts programmes, especially drama, should be considered for students with special needs. As I’ve mentioned, students are able to gain so much from ventures like these and funding would make it far easier for teachers and facilitators to provide students with even more help.”
For more information visit Down Syndrome Ireland.