A child’s first 5-6 years are a time of cognitive growth and eventually neural pruning, thus what is done with that time is of utmost importance. Recognizing dancing as a versatile, formidable modality for autism intervention is worth parents consideration. For starters, dance therapy is not dance class. With my three students (on the spectrum) whom I have coached for over five years, I have rolled out the use of dancing as a form of communication, emotional processing, and tool to re-channel stemming behavior. I do not use this modality with every student I coach.
These early years need to be a time of setting precedent for a child with special needs. The development of the below skills can be strengthened in short time with the right teacher setting up the right conditions.
- communication skills
- social skills
- sensory skills
- soft skills (grit, resilience, humility, compassion)
- executive function skills (like sustaining attention, functional balance, mental flexibility and behavior modulation)
Moreover, dance therapy can help one regain physical movement that was lost, take away physical pain and reinvigorate the nervous and lymphatic systems in the human body. Apparently, a great degree of children on the autism spectrum tend to have high heavy-metal content in their bodies, and stimulating the lymphatic system will aid in getting rid of these.
Yet, I do not recommend parents simply sign up their children to ‘autism dance therapy.’ Why? Well, if you drove a Ferrari, would you take it to any mechanic? No, you’d do your research and look to see that the sports car is in great hands. Likewise, should a consummate dancing professional with a ‘people-person’ congeniality be the one requisite parent of a child with special needs looks for? No, because dance therapy is not primarily about becoming a great dancer. It is a facilitating activity that helps a person deal with such things as anger, regret, resentment, pent-up energy…trauma. For wonderful people who happen to be on the autism spectrum, dance therapy becomes a form of communication, exercise, art (self-expression), and a way to bring their faculties under greater control.
Can a dance class teacher adequately address these? With respect, I believe the answer is professionally no. The time duration, business aspect, and lack of long-term commitment impinge upon the organic atmosphere needed to bring about ‘success.’ In terms of working with a young student population (children, adolescents, young adults), a Special Educator has the wherewithal (that means knowledge+experience) to work with, manage, redirect, anticipate, predict and have the vision and kind of emotional investment needed to come into the heart of hearts of someone with a special need and guide forward.
Dance therapy is tough, their can be crying involved, strong emotions can come to the surface, shifts in perspectives can happen suddenly. Progress can be slow and move forward only perhaps under a trained eye. Can a dance class teacher adequately address the behavioral component of a child/ adult on with a special need? It’s not just dancing. Dancing is the medium and is no substitute for the true foundation that this therapeutic approach rests on.. the relationship. Relationships take time to grow. Healthy ones are built on unconditional love, trust and caringness. All this takes time, emotional investment and patience.
You can reach out to Coach Bill MA SpEd via www.coachbill.us or on twitter @CoachBill007