The Hunter Heartbeat Method

Shakespeare takes centre stage – watch here

I was blown away by the sensitive performance of the group of dedicated and highly knowledgeable actors who managed to immerse and involve a group of adolescents with severe autism in their creative interpretation of the Tempest. I think very highly of the work of Flute Theatre and thoroughly recommend their approach. It is a wonderful contribution to a more holistic education of individuals with autism, and it would seem to be applicable at all ages and all abilities, including those without language.”
Uta Frith DBE

The Tempest for children with autism – watch here

The Hunter Heartbeat Method is a series of sensory drama games which use Shakespeare to release the communicative blocks within children and young people with Autism. Working slowly and deeply over the last 15 years these games have created powerful collisions of arts and science in theatres and universities across the UK, USA and Spain.

This methodology formed the basis of a longitudinal research project at Ohio State University from 2011-2015.

Published August 3rd 2016
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Kelly Hunter interviewed by Michael Dobson
January 2017
Digital Theatre+
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Edition 3, February 2013
Read article here

This film documents the early games of the methodology. July 2007
Watch here on The Routledge Performance Archive Subscription required

“Kelly and her team of actors worked for three years in a unit for children with autism at the Glebe School in Kent. Using Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a starting point, they worked with the children creating games and exercises, which could alleviate symptoms of the children’s autism. This DVD shows the children and actors demonstrating the games, beginning with non-verbal easy exercises and progressing through to challenging games using Shakespeare’s texts and narratives. The games are simple and fun to play, being specifically designed to improve the children’s communication skills. All the games and exercises can be played in a group, and can also be adapted for one-to-one therapeutic work. The film shows how positively children with severe autism can respond to stimulating ideas. It would be useful in training.”

“This morning we went to visit the Pony centre where we usually horse ride, they had an open day and our children took part in a competition. They all did brilliantly, but unfortunately right at the end when the horses were lined up, the lorry scared the horse, he moved and Brandon fell off. He was a bit upset and was pointing to his elbow so I decided to take him for a check up to hospital. According to his mum, Brandon hates hospitals and she always struggles badly with him once they enter. I was waiting with him in the waiting room. He was distressed, upset and crying a little bit. After few minutes he took my hand, placed it onto his heart and started saying ‘He-llo, He-llo’, exactly as we used to do it with Kelly in drama. After about 3 minutes he changed ‘Hello’ to ‘Good-bye’ and then he stopped. He calmed himself down completely and stopped crying. He kept singing his songs (as he always does) and asked me to hold his elbow. It was amazing to see how he calmed himself down and that he thought about this. I was pleasantly surprised, so I have to share it with you!”
Jurina Krafcikova, Brandon (aged 13)’s teacher.

“Like many children with autism, Martin doesn’t like joining in any social activity, yet when the actors arrive in the hall his face ‘lights up’ in a way I’ve hardly ever seen before. It is really moving to see how the most withdrawn children will start to respond during the games, making appropriate facial expressions or movements or saying a couple of words when speech is obviously difficult for them.”

Having seen him take part in several end-of-term sessions, I’ve been really impressed with his progress – he has now the confidence to speak up and introduce himself to a large group of parents, actors and other students where previously he would have been overcome with embarrassment and self-consciousness – the most inhibited students get caught up in what is going on, forget themselves and start joining in. For a short time the barrier that seems to separate most children with autism from others magically comes down. Whilst the students view the sessions as purely ‘having fun’ they are actually learning a great deal about human emotions and how they are expressed – how people react in different situations and how they are feeling inside – the very things that come naturally to most people but which are so hard for children with autism to interpret, causing them so many problems in social situations. I really don’t think you could put a price in the benefit of the group to the children taking part.”
Sue Verran, mother of Martin
( Martin was a student at the Glebe School in London from 2003-2006).

“My daughter’s main form of therapy has been ABA, which she’s done since she was 3 years old. We’ve done speech, OT, music therapy, camps, you name it, anything that I can come up with additionally to help her, of course. But sincerely, and I am not an overly hyper autism mom :), this is the first time in a long time that I see something new that looks like it could really help her. And that is very exciting to me. Surely you all know that getting her to express and recognize emotions as well as participate in imaginative play is just a huge hurdle, and so frustrating all around. So, the repetition and modeling that your program does while focusing on emotions and imagination, while also doing it along with her peers, just seemed like a combination that has a lot of potential. (She) kept herself calm while waiting her turn (also huge) and then participated appropriately. It was really fun to watch her pretend–that just doesn’t happen, ever. My first thought after seeing her and then going to the reception at the library was, why couldn’t this already be established so that we can just enroll her in a program?! So, yes, please keep her on your list, and I really hope that your research shows a very positive outcome.”
Mother of child at Kilbourne Middle School. Ohio US. 2012