Bereavement Support Line 1800 80 70 77

Acting Out (Tipperary)

Down Syndrome Tipperary (DST) is a voluntary parent-led organisation committed to supporting people with Down Syndrome (DS), ranging in age from 0 to 60 years.  With this Seed Grant, the parents ran a person-centered programme entitled ‘Acting Out’. This programme is specifically designed to meet the needs of people with DS aged between 7 and 25 who have or will suffer loss in all its forms. This may be the loss of a family pet, siblings leaving the family home, or the death of a loved one. 

Emily Matthews, an Education Drama Facilitator, was appointed to lead ‘Acting Out’. Over 12 weeks, she guided groups of children and young adults to explore loss through imaginary play and drama with the aim of helping them learn how to visualise, process, and express feelings of loss.  Delivery was underpinned by rhythm, repetition, and imitation. Emotions were creatively explored through storytelling using books such as ‘The Invisible String’, mime, puppetry, improvisation, song, dance, and active play. Difficult feelings such as anger, anxiety, and sadness, as well as feelings of joy and happiness, were identified and investigated. Creating and promoting opportunities to talk and express feelings was also actively encouraged. 

As the expressive language of people with DS is often way behind that of their peers, they frequently get stuck and struggle to find words, especially when experiencing any kind of loss, and often occurs at a time of transition. This lack of expression can be extremely damaging and can result in a build-up of frustration, a regression in speech, a lack of social engagement, and depression.  

However, as one parent told us during the trial:

“He finds ‘Acting Out’ very enjoyable and loves the social side of it, the interaction. He’s quite non-verbal but does start to express himself a lot more during the classes here with Emily.” 

DST’s Chairperson, Catherine Cleary, agrees.

“My own daughter, who is 10, is part of the programme and she is largely non-verbal. So, for her to come in here and ‘act out’ her feelings and express herself in that regard is unbelievable.” 

Acting Out’ began gently by identifying and acknowledging simple emotions such as joy. As the programme progressed, more intense and difficult emotions were investigated encouraging participants to express feelings and ultimately, helping to alleviate the pain of loss whatever that may be.  

People with DS have so much to offer and can thrive if given the right supports. Creative play and drama using programmes such as ‘Acting Out’ can give voice to people with DS. It permits the visualisation of difficult feelings such as anxiety, anger, disbelief, sadness, pain, and acceptance, all common emotions associated with grief and loss.  

The visual and immersive nature of creative play/drama can help people with DS process feelings, express thoughts, and understand intense emotions, and to ultimately acknowledge loss. This self-expression can allow people to begin the healing process and begin to carry loss proactively through their lives.