​CSUN's Teenage Drama Workshop, a 60-year-old summer theater program for 12- to 18-year olds, provided the perfect stage to explore theatre's potential as an intervention for youth on the autism spectrum.

During a five-week intensive theatre conservatory, 18 youths with autism spectrum disorder and nine neurotypical peers worked together to create, rehearse, and perform an original musical called "Joining the Spectrum" under the creative direction of author and media personality Elaine Hall. The project allowed participants to view life on the spectrum through individual stories and shared experiences.

Led by Dr. Ah-Jeong Kim, professor of theatre, and Dr. David Boyns, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Community Health & Wellbeing, and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts ArtWorks Research grant, the project raised awareness of autism and studied the importance of theatre as a liminal environment—an in-between space where individuals can explore, investigate, and restructure their sense of identity.

This innovative project brought together faculty researchers from three colleges with undergraduate and graduate student researchers, as well as volunteers from diverse disciplines. "Joining the Spectrum" was presented in five sold-out performances. Findings affirmed the transformative potential of theatre as a liminal art and found theatre can play an important role in increasing the self-esteem, empathy, and relationships of youth on the autism spectrum.​

"Having a spectrum child who is now in college, I was so moved at the opportunity for the children on the spectrum to be fully included in the project," an audience member said. "I couldn't stop crying. Thank you and bravo."