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Past research

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada has funded two research projects at the Centre for the Arts in Human Development. The first research project, titled Establishing Effective Creative Arts Therapies Assessments for Adults with Developmental Disabilities, was conducted between 2001-03. The second project, titled Performance-based Research: Changing Perspectives on Developmental Disabilities Through Ethnodrama, was conducted between 2006-08.

The Centre continues to innovate and explore the possibilities of the creative arts with smaller research projects, such as assessing the efficacy of using the arts to improve social skills for children with ASD; looking at the link between signing and wellness for adults with ASD; or addressing the experiences around sex education for disabled adults.

Research projects

CAHD Dance Movement Therapist Joanabbey Sack completed the research phase of this public outreach and research project, funded by the Centre for the Arts in Human Development and a Raschkowan outreach grant. The research phase consisted of 10 weeks of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), which emphasized improvisation and the importance of being able to respond quickly to the unexpected, as an important part of the therapeutic framework. Each participant was interviewed, assessed and participated in a series of standardized motor and cognitive tests before and after the 10-week treatment period.

The data collected was analyzed and prepared for presentations at medical and Creative Arts Therapies conferences in Japan and the United States. Early outcomes showed high levels of participation by participants with an almost perfect attendance. Overall, feedback from participantswas very positive. Below is an excerpt from one participant interview:

The improvisation element freed me up to set aside any thought of pain or worry and to freely express myself through dance and music. At times I felt like I was floating above it all. I have a new tool to distract me.

A number of participants also requested a future project, which would include spouses, children and/ or friends in the sessions. This is a potential new direction for future research.

It is important to the team and to Concordia that the project be duplicable by others working in the domain of Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases and manifestations.


The speech/communication group took place weekly on Wednesdays with members of Group 11 who demonstrated difficulty with speech and or communication skills. The goal of this group was to apply the BIG and LOUD format in order to improve confidence, communication and speech. Each group member demonstrated some form of shyness or withdrew from situations requiring communication.

This research examined the effectiveness of an adapted version of the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) with a group of 14 adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and social skills deficits. Social skills were measured using the Social Skills Improvement System-Rating Scales (SSIS-RS) (Gresham & Elliot, 2008) and the Quality of Play Questionnaires (QPQ) (Frankel & Mintz, 2011). Post-tests indicated significant increases in assertion on Student Forms of the SSIS-RS, and improved quality of play. Follow-up tests indicated significant overall improvements on the Student Forms of the SSIS-RS, and the conflict measure of the QPQ. Findings indicate a general improvement in social skills at post-test with statistical significance seen at follow-up. A concurrent support group for parents/caregivers was offered to all participants in the research.

Dr. Stephen Snow completed a portion of the research on dramatic ritual performances whose central purpose is healing. In December 2015, he videotaped an all-night performance of the Sanni Yakuma dramatic ritual in Southwest Sri Lanka. He also interviewed a dance master in this tradition and a young dancer who is studying it. He made contact with health professionals in Sri Lanka who wished to collaborate with him on this research.

A small follow-up research study was conducted over 12 weeks in the winter of 2015. Previous research showed significant social skill development for children on the autism spectrum through their participation in a drama therapy group. This follow-up study was offered to children who had previously received a social skills focused art therapy group.  Parents participated in a concurrent informal information and support group.

This initiative explored how the creative arts therapies program offered by the Centre for the Arts in Human Development facilitated the communication abilities in its clientele. Through the initiative of the Centre's Dance/Movement Therapist, Joanabbey Sack, and in collaboration with speech therapists and researchers Ruth Gesser and Karen Evans, several participants from the Centre's regular program had their communication skills assessed at three intervals to determine if change had taken place.

This project was brought to fruition under the guidance of Dr. Stephen Snow. Data collection began in January 2014 under HREC Ethics Certificate 30002572. This was the third application of the ethnodrama methodology utilized by Dr. Snow with the participants at CAHD. Interviews, focus groups, Playback Theatre and all the arts modalities were used to collect information on the participants’ (Group 9) experiences of multiple forms of relationships: including family, friends, romance and sexuality. Material from all of these group processes was used to build the ethnodrama script which was validated by the “informants” in May of 2014. The informant goup chose the title for the play - “The Amazing Adventure of Relationships.” Part of the purpose of the project was also to explore the participants’ experience of sex education. A professional sex educator was brought in to facilitate two workshops. This eventually became part of the play script. In May and June, 8 graduate students undertook independent studies on the project and also served as researchers and volunteers for the performance. Their resulting papers have been archived at CAHD. In June, the ethnodrama was performed for four separate audiences: peers, professionals in the field, family and friends, and the general public. A post-performance forum was held with each audience, to collect data on their experience of the play and their attitudes towards sexuality within this population. Over 250 questionnaires and their responses were collected from these audiences and will be analyzed for the future publication on this research. Initial feedback suggested groundbreaking work was achieved and that a genuine conversation on the topics of romance and sexuality in the lives of adults with developmental disabilities was initiated.

Dr. Laurel Young (Assistant Professor of Music Therapy) conducted a research project at the Centre for the Arts in Human Development–the main purpose of which was to  investigate the impact of a structured weekly singing group on the health and well-being of adults with high functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome. Although previous research has indicated that singing can have positive outcomes for the general population (i.e improved mood, increased self-esteem and confidence, increased feelings of well-being, improved respiration, positive impacts on the immune system, etc.) the relevance of these findings for persons with unique needs and potentials had not been fully explored. It is hoped that the project will be the first of several that will aid in the development of specific models of singing/vocal techniques that can be used in clinical and non-clinical (i.e. community) contexts with individuals who have a variety of complex or special needs. There were eight individuals who were recruited in partnership with the West Montreal Readaptation Centre. Graduate music therapy students led the group sessions, with the researcher/observer onsite. Results for the pre and post interviews indicated very positive results. This research has been presented at many international confrences. 

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