Theatre and Autism: an educational journey inspired by "Rite of Passage"
Summer 1984: four young boys decide to run away from the orphanage that is hosting them before the adoption of one of them materialises. An escape that begins at the sea and continues in a formative journey through the mountains and its obstacles, before ending at the bottom of the valley where a new self-awareness awaits the protagonists. It is this story, recounted by Alessio Pizzicannella in his novel Rite of Passage (Baldini & Castoldi), that inspired the applied theatre project of the same name, which involved some young people with Asperger's Syndrome (SA) and some students from the Dimitri Academy.
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Once again, theatre proves to be a space of non-judgement and experimentation with enormous benefits for people with Asperger's Syndrome, who experience difficulties in the social-emotional sphere and have behaviours that can hinder their professional and everyday relationships. Rite of Passage, in fact, is just one of the initiatives within a broader research path conducted by the ARES (Autism Resources and Development) Foundation in collaboration with the Dimitri Academy since 2018. The initial project was called Social Skills and Asperger's Syndrome: you can work and involved a dozen young people with AS in theatre workshops with the aim of developing relational skills useful for their inclusion in the world of work. e ha coinvolto una decina di giovani con SA in laboratori teatrali con lo scopo di sviluppare competenze relazionali utili per il loro inserimento nel mondo del lavoro.
The training journey recounted in Rite of Passage allowed those involved to deal with group work, non-verbal communication, empathising with the characters' feelings, active listening and neurodiversity.
In the workshop phase, participants were able to work on recognising and managing emotions, improving social skills and feeling more comfortable in the outside world. Once the details were finalised, actresses and actors presented what they had experienced during the meetings by taking the stage in front of an audience at World Autism Awareness Day 2023 in Lugano, where the performance was a great success.
Also following the protagonists of this adventure was Demis Quadri, Professor of Research and Education in Physical Theatre, who summarised this experience as follows: "This was a project that allowed us to experience the value of transdisciplinarity in solving complex problems in an innovative way.
The meeting between the skills of the young people with Asperger's Syndrome, the students, the theatre trainer, the writer, the researcher and the pedagogue involved, allowed everyone to discover, in different ways, new perspectives on their own work and interpersonal dynamics, and new possibilities to act in society and art."
Alessio Pizzicannella also had the opportunity to follow the project very closely, and this is his reaction: "For an author, seeing his text come to life is always an intense emotion.
Even more so if the nuances, subtly left to represent Asperger's traits, are recognised and understood. The young people with Asperger's Syndrome and the students of the Dimitri Academy, together with their coach, succeeded in elevating the essence, taking ideas that I thought had exhausted their potential on paper, to new and surprising levels."
The project that followed Rite of Passage also gave rise to the publication The Theatre for Social Skills in Autism Spectrum Disorders, which consists of two parts.
The first presents a historical excursus that helps readers understand terms such as Autism and Asperger's and the subject of theatre as a tool to help neurodiversity. The second part presents the birth and development of the project Social Abilities and Asperger's Syndrome: Work is Possible, by the ARES Foundation and the Accademia Dimitri, realised thanks to the contribution of Swiss Solidarity.
In a more specifically applied theatre research perspective, a chapter of the volume Il teatro nella società. Applied social research projects, published by the Academy in the series "Physical Theatre Stories" (2022).