Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type

Honors Project

School

College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Robin Parritz

Abstract

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a growing concern in schools across the nation. More students with high functioning autism are being mainstreamed, and students on and off the spectrum are being exposed to a wider variety of behaviors and new opportunities for friendship in school. Many students who fall on the autism spectrum suffer from the stigmatizing attitudes of their peers, and this stigmatization often stems from a lack of early education about mental health. Puppetry has been proven to captivate young audiences while teaching important messages in an entertaining and relatable way. The purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness of the puppetry play, “Watson & Holmes: The Friendship Equation” to demystify ASD and reduce stigmatizing attitudes. The play uses a mystery-based storyline to encourage students to observe and investigate their interactions and make positive friendship choices. Using creative audience engagement, “The Friendship Equation” teaches students five ways to be a good friend to someone on the spectrum. Third and fourth grade students were recruited from private schools that volunteered to participate in the study. The students were tested two weeks before and two weeks after the puppet program performance to determine their familiarity with ASD and their attitudes related to the behaviors associated with ASD that may occur in a mainstream classroom. The results show positive changes in knowledge of ASD and a significant reduction of stigmatizing attitudes. These findings suggest that “The Friendship Equation” may be an effective way to reduce stigmatizing attitudes in elementary school students.