Kids Love Musicals!: Social and Emotional Learning Outcomes in Special Education Environments

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
O. Zyga1, H. Meeker2, J. Kirk2 and S. W. Russ1, (1)Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, CLEVELAND, OH, (2)The Musical Theater Project, Cleveland, OH
Background:  Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show deficits in ability to process and express appropriate emotions and interact in social situations. Previous research has shown that the use of theater and music in the context of therapy have been beneficial in producing gains in socio-emotional functioning for individuals with ASD (Corbett et al., 2015). In the present study, the researchers examined the effects of the Kids Love Musicals! (KLM) residency program on children who either had a diagnosis of ASD or some type of learning or developmental disorder. The KLM program employs musical theater as a way to teach children skills relating to expressing emotions, engaging in cooperative learning, and imagination development through performing the “Wizard of OZ.” Within this study, students engaged in a 4-week intervention, delivered once a week for 30 minute sessions.

Objectives:  The main aim of this study was to provide empirical support for the KLM musical theater program. The authors wanted to better understand if students were able to make gains in socio-emotional skill development during the program. A secondary aim of the project was to understand if the intervention program could be tailored to various ages and ability levels.

Methods:  The KLM residency program was delivered to 5 schools across the greater Cleveland area to children ranging from 1st-12th grade. The intervention sessions were video recorded and student’s ability on variables of Eye Contact, Turn Taking, Sharing & Cooperative Learning, Engagement, Social Awareness & Self-Confidence, Symbolic Flexibility, and Emotional Understanding were coded by trained research assistants and interrater reliability was establish. Each variable was assigned a score on a likert scale based on a coding scheme adapted from previous research. Qualitative notes were also taken of student functioning. In total, 52 students were coded for the variables listed above. All students had previous diagnoses of either ASD or other developmental or learning disorders or delays.

Results: Results showed that across all schools and ability levels, students made gains in Eye Contact (p < .001, t = -4.156), Turn taking & Cooperative Learning (p < .001, t = -5.020), Engagement (p < .001, t = -5.054), Social Awareness & Self-Confidence ( p = .003, t = -3.188), Symbolic Flexibility (p = .001, t = -3.609), and Emotional Understanding (p = .009, t = -2.710) from session one to the end of the residency program. Further analysis also showed a significant main effect of school setting on variables of Turn taking & Cooperative learning, Social Awareness & Self-Confidence, and Emotional understanding, suggesting that ability level may play a role in gains possible during the intervention.

Conclusions: Overall, these findings suggest that engagement in a musical theater program does support the building of socio-emotional skills in children with ASD and other developmental disorders. Next steps include independent pre and post-assessments of measures of interest and delayed follow-up to understand the stability of these gains and their generalizability outside of the musical theater intervention.