In using theater as a social art form, one local teacher and author has found a unique way to help students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to connect with others. Jeannie Stefonek Uhlenkamp’s new book, Act It Out: Social Skills for Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Related Disorders, provides concrete social situations for developing social actions and behaviors with a full year of social skills lessons for students grades 7-12.
Through her work as an autism consultant and special education teacher, Stefonek Uhlenkamp has become passionate about facilitating social learning for students with ASD and other neurobiological disorders.
For students with social challenges, Stefonek Uhlenkamp’s Act It Out curriculum offers an opportunity to explore specific social skills themes through scripts and interviews, as well as plenty of chances to review. Students first learn about various social skills, then work on different ways to apply them into broader settings through practice skits, interviews at school, and trips into the community as laid out in the curriculum. This type of scripted exercise helps prepare students with ASD for real-world situations.
Stefonek Uhlenkamp explains her motivation for designing the new curriculum, as well as her interest in social norms and expectations, in the following interview:
Director’s Commentary – Setting the scene for a new learning environment
Based on my experience living in Japan, where many social situations were strictly scripted and adhered to, I thought, "We Americans do the same thing." For example, when you go to the birthday party of someone your own age, you act and say certain things that are expected. If you don't do this, you may come across as rude or callous. Also, if you go to a birthday party, say of a grandparent, the expectations may very slightly. Thus I chose themes and wrote several scripts based on varied situations that a student may encounter.
Global Inspiration — All the world is a stage for social learning!
I found it important to not only set the stage for students to understand social situations, but to also give them specific words to say. Many of the students I work with have good intentions but may not understand how they are expected to act, or what they are expected to say. Act It Out gives students those tools in an encouraging way. Teens are more likely to learn social skills through these methods because seemingly acting isn't risk-taking.... it’s just acting! I came up with the title of Act It Out after reflecting upon what the book is really about —the ability to act in a socially acceptable way and carrying out the scripts that neuro-typical individuals naturally understand.
Backstage Pass – Revealing the themes behind social expertise
Throughout my experience I have learned that the social world truly is a stage. Previous to writing this book, I learned from the Japanese that there are two faces we display; our innermost thoughts and feelings known as honne and our socially acceptable face we show to the public--regardless how we truly feel--known as, tatemae. It's the tatemae that keeps us employed, engaged with friends and involved successfully in numerous social activities. Act it Out is an attempt to teach and give voice to the tatemae in all of us.
Love Story — Finding passion in writing books targeted toward teens on the spectrum
I was inspired to write my first book, The Guide to Dating for Teenagers with Asperger Syndrome by witnessing some of the struggles and heartaches teens on the spectrum were dealing with because they didn't understand the social cues and subtleties of dating and intimacy. I saw a lot of dating disasters, like one boy who called a girl 40 times one night because she wasn't answering his call and thought, "I wonder if some teens might like some guidance in this area?" It's hard enough for neurotypical teens to navigate the dating world, and being on the spectrum adds an additional dimension that requires explanation, at the very least!
Since writing the book, Stefonek Uhlenkamp continues to devote time to helping students on the spectrum in social environments. Over the summer she conducted Camp Friendship, a program to support teens with autism spectrum disorder in meeting new people and making friends.
Jeannie Stefonek Uhlenkamp, MEd, is a special education instructor with a broad range of experience working with students with neurobiological disorders. She has served as an adjunct professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and currently teaches special education at a middle school in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Jeannie is currently working on an English conversation book for Japanese natives to explain American culture and socially acceptable interactions for all occasions.
About AAPC Publishing
Established in 1999, AAPC Publishing specializes in providing mainstream, hands-on knowledge to individuals, families, educators and other professionals regarding topics related to autism spectrum disorders. We are a proud provider of quality resources that offer evidence-based solutions at affordable prices.