Through collaboration between The Ohio State University Nisonger Center, The Ohio State University Department of Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, a unique opportunity has been created to study an exciting new intervention. The Hunter Heartbeat Method, created by Kelly Hunter of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has been used with children with autism spectrum disorders for the past 20 years. Over the years, teaching strategies and intervention methods have been refined and have been anecdotally effective in improving social and communication skills with children of all ages and across the autism spectrum.

Shakespeare and Autism Pilot Study

The pilot study aimed to demonstrate the ability of this standardized Shakespearian based intervention to improve core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder including difficulties with communication and social skills. The pilot study provided preliminary data on the efficacy of the intervention and further information regarding logistical issues related to the study.

Children participating in the study were recruited through local area public schools. Children were selected based on the presence of an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Actors facilitating the intervention were selected from The Ohio State University’s Theatre Department and received training in the Hunter Heartbeat Method as well as basic education in autism spectrum disorders. Children’s communication, social skills, facial emotion recognition abilities, and adaptive behavior were assessed with standardized measures before the start of the intervention. Children participated in the Shakespeare and Autism intervention after school for \1 hour per week for 10 weeks. At the end of the 10 week intervention period children’s skills were reassessed and parents, teachers, and children were asked questions about whether or not they enjoyed the activity and if they would like to participate in something like this again.

We expect to see trends in the data indicating some improvement in facial emotion recognition, communication, social skills, and pragmatic language. We hope to find that parents, teachers, and children are satisfied with the intervention and perceive it to have been meaningful.

The Hunter Heartbeat Method

The Hunter Heartbeat Method is a Shakespearian based theater intervention developed by Kelly Hunter of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Hunter Heartbeat method is based around the rhythm of iambic pentameter and the sound of the heartbeat. In this intervention, games based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest are introduced to the children allowing them to progress through the basic plot of the work while emphasizing the themes of the eyes, the mind and the heart. Games target skills such as eye contact, turn taking, facial emotion recognition and production, imitation, improvisation, basic play, humor, and communication in a fun and playful manner. Children learn the games while seated in a large group circle through imitation and observation rather than explicit instruction, have an opportunity to play the games one on one with an actor, and then have an opportunity to enter the middle of the circle and show their interpretation of the game to their peers. The Hunter Heartbeat method emphasized the low actor to child ratio so children receive individual attention, feedback, and interaction as they play the games and grow and develop core social skills and communication.

Shakespeare and Autism Events: Kelly Hunter’s Talk, May 2012

Kelly Hunter of the Royal Shakespeare Company and creator of the Hunter Heartbeat Method came to The Ohio State University for the conclusion of the 10 week Shakespeare and Autism Intervention and spoke at an event aimed at sharing the exciting progress of this project with families, collaborators, and community partners. Kelly spoke about the development of the Hunter Heartbeat Method and shared success stories from her previous work. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to view a brief video taken during the pilot study.


OSU Department of Theatre, Lesley Ferris, PhD; Robin Post, MFA
The Royal Shakespeare Company, Kelly Hunter
Ohio State University Nisonger Center, Marc J. Tassé, PhD; Maggie Mehling; Suzanne Davis

For more information please contact Maggie Mehling at

Related Links
Shakespeare and Autism ColumbusPublic for AAIDD 2014 [PDF]
Shakespeare and Autism Project Receives 2012 Engagement Impact Grant
2012 Engagement Impact Grants
Ohio State and the Royal Shakespeare Company: Shakespeare and Autism Project