Project-based Pragmatic Language Interventions: The SENSE Theatre

Project-based Pragmatic Language Interventions: The SENSE Theatre

  • Play is not the only way: Play is one way to combine peer mediation and video-modelling to increase children’s pragmatic language skills.  Another idea is for students with pragmatic language challenges to work with peers on a project.
  • SENSE Theatre Intervention: Developed at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, the therapy uses theatre games, improvisation, character development, singing, and performance with peer actors to improve pragmatic language of children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  • Real world goal: At the end of the intervention, participants perform a play with their peers about belonging, acceptance, and making friends for the public. 
  • Who? Students with high-functioning ASD are paired with typically-developing peer actors of similar ages.
  • Peer training: Peers and staff are first trained to work with people with ASD. 
  • Intervention: Participants engage in theatrical games, role-plays, singing, and exercises, and then rehearse their roles in the play with their peers.  
  • Home practice: For 15 minutes a day, participants with ASD watch and rehearse lines and exercises using video models made by typically-developing peers.
  • How long? Designed as a summer camp program, the manualised intervention involves 10, four-hour sessions across two weeks. 
  • Key Results: Participants showed improved social awareness, social cognition, adaptive skills, social perception (e.g. facial recognition), and theory of mind. Parents reported improved social communication at home and in the community. Some treatment effects were maintained two months post-intervention.
  • Why does it work? (a) Peer-mediation and modelling (live and video). (b) Peers were both the main teachers and social partners of participants, with frequent, direct interactions. (c) Fun activities, encouraging participants to join in and have opportunities to learn from social experiences. (d) Acting provides opportunities for children to engage in reciprocal social communication.
Project-based Pragmatic Language Intervention: SENSE Theatre

Key sources:

  • Corbett, B. A., Swain, D. M., Coke, C., Simon, D., Newsom, C., Houchins-Juarez, N., Jenson, A., Wang, L., & Song, Y. (2014). Improvement in social deficits in autism spectrum disorders using a theatre-based, peer-mediated intervention. Autism research: Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research7(1), 4–16.
  • Corbett, B. A., Key, A. P., Qualls, L., Fecteau, S., Newsom, C., Coke, C., & Yoder, P. (2016). Improvement in Social Competence Using a Randomized Trial of a Theatre Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders46(2), 658–672.

Related infographics:


Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.

Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language

Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard