Celebrating shared triumph over personal struggle and collective challenges, “Learning to Play” reflects the complexity and wonder of Autism through the real-life experiences of thirty-two clients with Autism as they tread down the path of learning and discovery in a 20-week long Acting Workshop process that is part of a larger, unique and ground-breaking social therapy program in Columbus, OH.
There is much misunderstanding of how autism manifests uniquely for each individual on the vast spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Showing this condition from the multiple perspectives of a large number of clients living with ASD, the documentary presents the breadth, diversity, and range of the autism spectrum. This allows the viewer to go beyond awareness and toward a more accurate and thorough understanding of autism. Thirty-two clients with ASD, five siblings, and eight clinical staff at Amigo Family Counseling, LLC (AFC), a mental health center in Columbus, OH, are filmed as they proceed through a 20-week long therapeutic acting workshop process. The entire process involves three separate plays, each with its own cast, all of which culminates in three separate performances at a well-known downtown theater. Viewers of the film see the power and influence of the dramatic arts as a tool for those living with ASD to practice and develop social and relationship skills.
The clinical approach of the acting workshops falls under the larger umbrella of a ground breaking social therapy program created and implemented by Dr. Emilio Amigo, Founder, Director, and Supervising Clinical Psychologist at AFC. Dr. Amigo uses the fields of science and psychology to guide his program which is named Respons•ability Social Therapy (RST)™. The entire Acting Workshop program shown in the film is led by Ashley Amigo, Creative Social Arts Program Director at AFC. She is a gifted and multi-disciplinary visionary who designed the use of the dramatic arts at AFC to coordinate with Dr. Amigo’s RST approach. She is the Director, the creative force, and the compassionate authority behind each all workshops and all performances in the film. The revolutionary approaches of the RST and Acting Workshop programs astound viewers as they witness the impact they have on the clients.
Dr. Amigo and Ashley devised the acting workshops to serve as a metaphoric playground – one that mimics the real-life use of play for growth and development. Those of us who are parents tell our children to go ahead and run out the backdoor to play. Individuals living with Autism often don't open that backdoor. When children learn to interact and have fun with others, there are no clear cut instructions. Relational play is not learned through memorization or following a series of steps or rules. It must be organic and authentic. Showing that there need not be a prescribed set of instructions to guide those with autism to develop their social abilities, Dr. Amigo and Ashley encourage the clients to show up, get into the thick of that playground that can be confusing, and experience how life is unscripted and often messy.
The film shows us how we are all in this playground of life just doing our best and that the most important thing is that we try to do so with a dedicated, playful spirit. Viewers see individuals on the autism spectrum talk about what creativity means to them and how the acting workshops in this social therapy program have transformed their lives in unprecedented ways. You will also see them fall down on that playground and receive the clinical help to get up, wipe their knees, and go back out and play with others with self-grace for their mistakes and challenges. The film invites all of us to celebrate our shared human experience of triumphs and challenges, fun and heartache, and confusion and discovery that occurs when we try to build meaningful relationships.
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All images of individuals shown here are public domain authorized in association with their use in the “Learning to Play” documentary