Shakespeare's Heartbeat - Drama Games for Children with Autism Book Cover Shakespeare's Heartbeat - Drama Games for Children with Autism
Kelly Hunter
Performing Arts


This book outlines a unique approach to teaching Shakespeare to children on the autistic spectrum. The activities are clearly described and could be used by any teacher, regardless of drama expertise. Kelly Hunter has spent over ten years working with children on all points of the spectrum and has developed a series of simple games aiming to override the disassociation of mind and body and other challenges that such children face.

The book describes each activity in detail, giving advice on how to demonstrate and play these sensory games. Characters and moments from two plays provide the focus: A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.

Hunter aims to use Shakespeare as a means to "wake the children up to their own lives" and to develop eye contact, facial expression, spatial awareness and language skills through imaginative play. Each session begins and ends with the "Heartbeat Circle", where the children beat out the rhythm of their heartbeat whilst saying 'hello' and practising facial expression.

This leads onto playing the games within a circle marked out on the floor. No scripts or props are used, just bodies and voices. Short extracts from Shakespeare are taught to children through prompting (these are learnt off by heart by the teacher in advance). The games are first demonstrated, then the children play them in pairs or small groups and finally share them within the circle. Ideally a number of adults pair up with the children, although guidance is also given for a teacher leading the session on her own.

I don't often work with groups of children on the autistic spectrum but even so, I found the book fascinating. It is clearly written and thoroughly inspiring. There is no reason why many of these games could not be used with children from an early age, both on and off the autistic spectrum.