Melanie Peter is a lecturer in early childhood studies and special needs at Suffolk College, Ipswich, and a freelance consultant in arts education and inclusive/special education. Her recent research has focused on the value of pretence, particularly for children with autistic spectrum disorders. In this article, based on a paper given to the conference ‘Innovation, Research and Good Practice in the Education of Pupils with Severe, Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities’ at the University of London in April 2002, she presents an approach to developing drama with severely socially challenged children, underpinned by a rationale founded in the importance of early experiences of make–believe and narrative. In drama, children at early stages of learning can begin to explore and understand social narratives from the inside – a vital route to developing social competence. Melanie Peter concludes that while play–drama intervention is aimed especially at children with autistic spectrum disorders, it can also benefit a wider range of children with severe and complex learning needs and help them to participate more effectively in a social world.