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Music & Autism: How Music Helped One Mother Connect With Her Son

Posted on July 08, 2013

"Music is the shorthand of emotion" - Leo Tolstoy

After her friend suggested that she join MyAutismTeam, Amy Pentz, of Riverview, Florida, used her phone to check it out. On the homepage of the social network for parents of kids with autism, she played the MyAutismTeam video tour, while her almost-3-year old son watched a movie. When the theme music for the video tour began, her son’s ears perked up, he turned around, began dancing, moving his arms and feet, smiling, making eye contact, and for a moment, “Autism didn’t exist. The music was so cheery, it made him happy listening to it,” says Amy, the self-described stay at home mom.

Amy joined MyAutismTeam to get “a little help, support and camaraderie” from other parents who’ve been in her shoes. She wanted to be connected to those who understood the daily ups and downs of raising a child with autism. Little did she realize she would end up connecting even more with her son, Dayne, with the music from the site.

“He’s never responded to any other music. Classical, country, rock… I’ve tried everything. But nothing has ever got him up and moving like the song that played on the MyAutismTeam video.”

Here is a video of Dayne feeling the music.

Amy explains, “I suspected that he was “quirky” when he was around 18 months old, and lost all of his verbal language. My concerns were ignored by his pediatrician, so I found a new one who listened to me. Over the next year, there were numerous speech/language, occupational & behavioral evaluations. November 7, 2012, my suspicions were confirmed by an ADOS test.”

Dayne, who will be three this month, gets a lot of therapy through a team of providers (Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, Behavioral Therapist and soon an ABA Therapist) at Total Therapy. One member of Amy and Dayne’s team is Nicole Shea, an occupational therapist who also specializes in Therapeutic Listening, and who first introduced Amy to music therapy, combined with the other OT and ABA therapy Dayne was benefiting from.

The American Music Therapy Association says that music therapists, like Nicole Shea,

…use music therapy to enable those without verbal language to communicate, participate and express themselves non-verbally. Very often music therapy also assists in the development of verbal communication, speech, and language skills. The interpersonal timing and reciprocity in shared play, turn-taking, listening and responding to another person are augmented in music therapy with children and adults with autism to accommodate and address their styles of communication. The rhythmic component of music is very organizing for the sensory systems of individuals diagnosed with autism. As a result, auditory processing and other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, gross and fine motor skills can be enhanced through music therapy. Musical elements and structures provide a sense of security and familiarity in the music therapy setting, encouraging individuals with ASD to attempt new tasks in a predictable but malleable framework.

ZingDog, the musician and composer who wrote Happy Campers, the song that Amy’s son, Dayne connected with, had no idea how much the cheery music moved Dayne. “I was very pleased to hear the effect my music had on Dayne. It is both humbling and very satisfying to know that my music has made a connection with people. It makes me smile,” says the musician.

“I wrote Happy Campers over the course of a few hours, so it happened about as quickly as all of my music does. I picked that title because to me it conjures up images of happy kids without a care in the world. I try to envision how each piece of music could be used and what visual images would work well with what I’m composing.”

When asked about other music recommendations similar to Happy Campers, ZingDog agrees that musicians like Feist, Jack Johnson and Ingrid Michaelson also offer a collection of up-beat music.

A Look Back to 2012

At MyAutismTeam, we looked back on some of our favorite stories of kids with autism ‘feeling the music’ in 2012. Besides Dayne, here are two more kids on the spectrum who connect with music in their own ways.

Jacob, a blind child with autism literally feeling the music with this street:

Ethan, the 6-year-old playing Billy Joel’s Piano Man accompanied by his music therapist on guitar:

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