7 Surprising Benefits of Theater Involvement for kids with Mental Health Challenges

When you think of theatre kids, you probably envision bubbly, outgoing types with great singing and dancing abilities. And if you are the parent of a child or teen with an intellectual disability such as Autism, Aspergers, anxiety or depression, you might assume that theatre involvement would not be a good fit for your kid. Surprisingly, kids with mental health challenges can learn new skills and grow in their appreciation for the arts by participating in a theatre group. Three out of my four children have enjoyed participating in theatre arts. My oldest child was very active in theatre through middle and high school, and in college went on to earn a degree in Theatre Education. My third child, who has autism, participated in a theatre elective at her middle school. After working with the group for nearly a full school year, she was able to play a role in the ensemble for a full-length play! She formed new friendships and grew in confidence. It wasn’t always easy and she was definitely required to step out of her comfort zone. She has been acting regularly with Starbright Little Players for 2 years and has formed positive, meaningful friendships. My fourth child has a lot of social anxiety and has recently begun participating in workshops at Starbright Little Players. The instructors have been so sensitive to her needs and care about placing her in a role that will help her feel comfortable and shine! Many parents, therapists, and teachers have seen these tangible benefits for kids with intellectual and mental health challenges, as they have engaged with theatre arts: 1. Communication strategies: kids in theatre exercises practice respectful dialogue with peers and learn how to speak in large groups. Since the dialogue is from a script, the participant can practice taking turns speaking without having to consider what to say. 2. Working in groups: producing a play or performance requires kids to develop group skills, which will be helpful in other classes and areas of life. Learning these skills is facilitated by the adult instructor. 3. Managing anxiety: many kids and teens experience anxiety regularly, and theatre exercises can teach coping skills, especially in unfamiliar settings. 4. Increase ability to correctly recognize facial expressions: when working through a scripted scene, participants learn the correct facial expression for a situation. 5. Increase ability to identify emotions: theatre participants learn to express an emotion outwardly in an appropriate way. This is especially helpful for kids with ASD. 6. Learn problem solving skills: as a participant takes on the “role” of another person, he can learn new ways to work through real life situations. Playing a role gives a new perspective on how others think and act, thereby increasing “theory of mind” in a kid with an intellectual disability. 7. Increase in happiness and life satisfaction: theatre participants reported feeling happy with their accomplishments at the conclusion of a program or class. Parents often noted a decrease in their child’s aggression. Like all arts programs, theatre participation can change a child’s perspective on the world. We have had such a positive experience with theatre arts that I look forward to my kids participating again and again! I encourage you to consider a theatre program for your child. If you are in the Triangle area of North Carolina, we’d love to meet you and your child at Starbright Little Theatre! We offer day and evening classes for ages 4-18. Call Karon today at 910-279-5735.