“O, Wonder!”

Though Shakespeare is long gone, his work is still changing lives. A new study from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has shown improvement of communication and social skills of children with autism that participated in the “Hunter Heartbeat Method,” a Shakespeare-centric therapy that introduces children with autism to the rhythms of iambic pentameter and focuses on emotional recognition skills.

The therapy reinterprets Shakespeare’s The Tempest as theater activities that encourage children with autism to practice skills like: making eye-contact, recognizing facial expressions, and social timing. Though the therapy is about 10 years old, its creator Kelly Hunter recently noticed that it seemed to be especially effective for kids with ASD and has begun focusing on bringing it to more kids with with autism.

In these therapy sessions, the children begin with a “Hello heartbeat” exercise in which they mimic a heartbeat by pounding their chest while also saying hello to all of the other participants. Hunter describes much of her method quite eloquently as, “The poetic exploration of human communication.”

When researchers at Ohio State conducted their study of Hunter’s method they did so in a 10-week trial involving children from ages ranging from 10 to 13. Their findings suggest that the therapy helps children with ASD improve linguistic and social skills. The researchers hope to conduct a larger study in the future to confirm the therapy’s promise.