Click here for COVID-19 updates affecting the campus community

Radio dramas aimed to help children with autism lacks funding


From left ot right, professor Al Wildey, BCA student Jay Armstrong and BCA student Nick Swan record one of Anderson’s fables on Wednesday Nov. 29.

Audio dramas aimed at helping autistic children learn communicative skills may be put on hold due to a lack of funding from the Center for Innovation, Collaboration and Engagement. 

Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts professor William Anderson, head of the project, said so far he's funded the project on charm alone. But that might not work for much longer.

“I have people on board who want to help me with this and I have students, the big problem I’m running into now is that in order to really get it going I need some more money to do it because so far I’ve done it on charm,” Anderson said.“I’m doing this for public domain, I’m doing it to help people. I don’t see making any money off this. Right now I need money to get this done.”

Johnny Sparks, ICE Director, said the problem with funding isn't that the center doesn't want to provide money for projects: It's that they can't.

"ICE currently has no money to fund projects," he said. "We are not accepting proposals for funding projects at this time."

On Feb. 3, Anderson was awarded $600 towards "examining factors to predictably increase the adoption and affective fandom for audio drama/podcasts targeted to millennials" according to ICE documents provided by Sparks. By Sept. 1, Anderson requested an additional $400 from ICE but was denied on the grounds that ICE did not have the funds available.

In emails also provided by Sparks, Anderson said money would go towards paying voice actors involved in the project and to "internally produce three scripts targeted to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) audiences."

"(These dramas) work very well for an autistic audience because a lot of the times they have communication apprehension," Anderson said. "(These audio dramas) will allow cognitive scripting, which is basically the principle that it give you lines to say in situations you don't have something to say."

Anderson’s audio dramas incorporate recognizable Aesop's fables such as The Tortoise and the Hare as well as a set cast of characters that are used to teach the lesson behind each of the given fables.

“It pretty much is a formula that I’ve created and so it works really well because it  shows a situation, it tells a fable, which gives the life lesson for the story and then it shows the main character understanding and being able to share the whole thing,” Anderson said.

Anderson called upon fellow CMU professors and students to help him with his project. Professor of art and design, Al Wildey, played the role of a father in one of Anderson’s audio dramas.

“What is interesting about what (Anderson) is doing is that he is taking a particular sort of form of audio presentation that had dwindled and he’s reintroducing into this digital environment that makes it another flavor of what’s already happening,” Wildey said.

Professors are not the only ones who have helped Anderson with his audio dramas. Students like BCA major Nick Swan volunteered to be a voice actor in the audio dramas when he realized how helpful they could be to people with autism.

“It’s a different approach because I feel like people are stirring away from radio and it’s just something that really beneficial especially for kids dealing with autism,” said the Howell senior. “I feel like this is a really beneficial way to help (autistic people) out. It’s another form of entertainment that can still keep someone occupied and tuned in but also has a good cause to it."