Silence is symbolic for many on the Autism Spectrum; for many who are nonverbal, it is a literal interpretation. The autism community as a whole was (once) viewed a silent minority hidden amongst the neurotypical populace. We have only begun to understand, however, that the autistic and the neurotypical can, and must, coexist for the benefit of both. Like the Chinese yin and yang, there must be a balance; this applies to music as well as autism. To understand and appreciate autism, there must be an acceptance of it; an understanding of the neurotypical allows for an understanding of the autistic, and vice versa. As explained below, music without silence, pause or punctuation, is simply unending cacophony. Silence allows us to appreciate the sound. -Ed
WHAT IS MUSIC WITHOUT SILENCE? by Phil Evans, via huffingtonpost.com
There is one phrase I overuse to an almost criminal extent – “the power of music”. As a Nordoff Robbins music therapist, it is both my currency and an easily digestible sound-byte that trips off the tongue when I haven’t the time or inclination to explain what it is I actually do.
When music therapists talk about the ‘power’ music has, I think we are describing music’s inherent potential to connect us, to move us, to remind us who we are and to change the way we think and feel.
Everyone has an instinctive understanding of the language of music. Consequently, we can’t help but respond to it. As a (faintly embarrassed to admit) monolinguist, I find it pretty easy to ignore an overheard train conversation spoken in Spanish or Mandarin… yet if it’s in English I find it nigh on impossible not to earwig at least a little. So it is with the language of music; we all understand it, so when we hear it we can’t help but tune in.
Where did this innate, universal understanding come from? Well many would say that it is because we are all formed by music.
When we enter the world our primary relationship, usually with our mother, is fundamentally a musical one. There are the obvious musical tools – the lilting melody of her voice as she sings to calm us or her rhythmical rocking to lull us to sleep. But the musical nature of the relationship runs far deeper. In fact when trying to describe the nuances of how a mother and her baby interact with each other, child developmentalists such as Daniel Stern found that they constantly borrowed from musical terminology to do so; the rhythm of the interaction, the shifting dynamic range, a shared crescendo, and so on.
Even before that, our earliest experiences in the womb are essentially musical in nature. We hear the rhythm of our mother’s heart beat on average about 26 million times before we leave the safety of the womb. We experience and internalize the regular meter of her pulse, her breathing, her walking.
We also hear the melody of our mother’s voice. Or to be specific, we hear the melody, and we hear the silence when it stops. Many now consider this ‘presence’ and ‘absence’ creates our first meaningful experience of ourselves – of something being with us, then, through silence, absent.
I’ve recently found myself considering this relationship between music and silence in music therapy, which has been prompted by David Hendy’s excellent Radio 4 series, Noise: A Human History. In this week’s episode, in which he focused on humanity’s affiliation with silence, Hendy said that ‘in a world full of noise, the value of silence is rocketing’.
As a Londoner who spent 10 years living under the Heathrow flight path I know all too well what he means. But his insight reminded me that we take silence for granted at our peril. Indeed I believe that the source of the ‘power’ of music is, to a large extent, the power of silence. It is the silence before, after or during a musical experience that articulates and structures that experience, and in doing so helps us to make sense of it.
So silence, perhaps counter-intuitively, is one of the most powerful tools in a music therapist’s armory. Because through the journey from silence into music and back again, comes meaning. And often our job as music therapists is to help clients find a balance between the two; for example with clients on the autistic spectrum.
Much of the original work that Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins did when formulating their approach to music therapy was with autistic children. Today, 50 years on, the range of client groups whose lives are transformed by the charity that bears their name has expanded enormously. However, at the Nordoff Robbins music therapy centre in London where I work we still see a lot of children and adults with ASD.
Commonly, these children develop repetitive, self-isolating cycles or patterns to create order and sense from what can be for them an incomprehensible, orderless world. So often they will come in to the music therapy room, find an instrument to play and soon get stuck or lost in one of these repetitive patterns – endlessly playing up and down the xylophone or beating a drum, unable or unwilling to stop; perhaps for fear that in the silence the incoherence of the ‘real’ world will return.
One of our tasks as therapists in this situation is to make that silence bearable. To use it to punctuate the music we make together, in order to make our musical connection meaningful and understandable. In doing so, we can then offer a pathway out of isolation to be able to communicate in a slightly more endurable world outside.
Silence in music therapy, as in life, can take on many qualities. It can be oppressive or mutual, uncomfortable or soothing. I often find in music therapy with verbal adults that when a long musical improvisation ends it is very difficult to come straight back ‘into words’. Here an instinctive shared silence – sometimes of as long as a minute, can act as a de-compression chamber allowing us time to return from the intimacy of spontaneous shared music-making back into the realm of words and interpretation.
Many who go to classical music concerts will recognize that instinct in the couple of seconds’ silence between the music ending and applause starting. It brings audience and musicians together in a moment of shared, intimate stillness, reminding us that what was experienced individually was also experienced together. And again it acts as a transition back into the wider world. That is of course unless some idiot ruins the silence with a self-agrandising ‘bravo’ before the final note has even ended.
So really when we talk about the power of music, perhaps we have in mind the eternal dance between music and silence, one framing the other to create meaning that is unique to each of us, spoken in a language that is universal.
- JLS Show Why Music Matters (katie.nicholl.mailonsunday.co.uk)
At 21, Rio Wyles still displays all the classic signs of autism.
Click this link to view the video: http://bcove.me/p6idk7zi
He avoids eye contact with a stranger who tries to initiate a conversation with him, and seems eager to run away from the situation. It’s an expected reaction because autism is strongly associated with social, verbal and nonverbal communication problems.
But then the young Playa del Rey resident puts on his black sunglasses, grabs a microphone and, suddenly, he turns into Soulshocka – an ambitious rapper who “reps” Venice Beach for more “street cred. ”
“I started rapping when I was 8 or 9,” Rio says as he sits on a couch in an Inglewood recording studio.
“I was at Tower Records. The first song I really heard was ‘Can’t Touch This’ by MC Hammer. ”
The recording studio is part of Performing Arts Studio West, an entertainment company that caters to adults with developmental disabilities, including Asperger’s syndrome, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and others.
Rio has been part of the company for the past two years and is prepping to perform in its May 3 show “Recovered” at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance.
The founder of the company, John Paizis, has been an adult special education teacher since 1980. In his spare time, he also was an entertainer and realized great benefits could come from combining the two, especially for those with autism.
“Being able to look somebody in the eye and effectively communicate is super important for these guys,” Paizis said.
His entertainment company puts performers into situations “where the curriculum kind of forces them to do that by doing acting scenes where they need to have eye contact with people, where they need to vocalize, where they need to be heard. ”
The company offers a variety of classes, including singing, song writing, music production, dance and all styles of acting. And each offers something different.
For example, Paizis said, dancing helps autistic adults learnbody language and how to become more aware of how much space their body takes up. Music lets them see a sequence of events that ends with a finished product.
“Music classes are fabulous for them,” Paizis said. “And a lot of the population has a proclivity toward music since they were kids, especially some of our high functioning kids – so communication, body language, being able to put their best foot forward in any kind of social situation, that really helps. ”
Rio knew he wanted to be a rapper since the time he was about age 4. In fact, after he was diagnosed at 3 years old, a doctor at UCLA told his parents to find something he enjoys doing and to let him follow that path.
“Fortunately for us, he loved music, and so music is his way back into the world,” said Rio’s father, David Wyles.
Since finding his passion, Wyles said, Rio has become more comfortable with other people and with himself.
He writes his own raps, drawing inspiration from his diagnosis and writing lines like: “Who’s the guy on the short bus causing a fuss?” And another: “The doc said I couldn’t do it, but now they have to face the music. ”
But despite his willingness to perform for autism organizations, he said he’s trying to stay away from it.
“He wants to be known as a rapper and not an autistic rapper,” said his dad. “And that’s true. He is a rapper first and foremost, and autism is the back story. ”
In a striking moment, when asked where Rio would be today if he hadn’t found music as a young boy, his father softly says “lost. ”
Rio, on the other hand, is more blunt.
“I’d either be in a group home, or … yeah,” he said. “Music has the potential of getting me out of the hole. So pretty much, it got me out of the grind. ”
And he doesn’t plan to stop.
One day the family was returning home from a doctor’s appointment where they learned Rio might not mature any further.
When they stopped at a record store to browse, Rio’s mom asked him if he would like to work there someday.
“No, I want to be a rapper and own my own label,” he said. “You gotta dream bigger than that Mom. ”
firstname.lastname@example.org @stephiecary on Twitter
Want to go?
What: Performing Arts Studio West presents an original musical featuring performers with developmental disabilities.
When: 8 p.m. Friday May 3
Where: James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance
Information: Tickets are $25. Call 310-674-1346 , Ext. 202, or go to pastudiowest.com
We have seen first-hand the great work at the Rebecca Center; Mike was enrolled in music therapy sessions there years ago, and did really well; able to participate with therapists and peers. I think it also lay the ground work for his appreciation (both likes and dislikes) of music. Music therapy rocks! -Ed
Molloy College researchers involved in an international study testing music therapy as a communication tool for children with autism are looking for participants.
The Rebecca Center for Music Therapy, a clinic and training program on the Rockville Centre campus, is the only place in the United States participating in the collaborative study, which this week enters its second phase.
The trial, said to be the largest to explore a non-drug therapy for autism, includes sites in seven other countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Israel, Italy, South Korea and Norway.
To be considered for the study, children must be between 4 and 7 years old with an autism diagnosis and have had little or no music therapy.
The study, funded with a $2.5 million grant from the Research Council of Norway and in-kind donations from the sites, is expected to include more than 300 children around the world.
“There’s emerging research now that shows music can increase a child’s ability to socialize, engage and relate,” said John A. Carpente, the study’s U.S. site manager and founder-executive director of the Rebecca Center. “These are the core deficits of autism.”
Autism spectrum disorders, known as ASDs, are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
Children diagnosed with autism often have difficulty making eye contact, pointing at an object or beginning or sustaining interaction with others.
With improvisational music therapy, the child is given an instrument, often a drum or other percussion instrument, which he or she uses to relate or “speak” with a therapist.
On a recent afternoon at the Rebecca Center, Arielle Goldman, 9, of Bellmore, who is on the autism spectrum, used a drum in such an exercise.
For the first 15 minutes of her session, Arielle stood apart from her therapist, clinging to the wall of a music therapy room. Eventually, she was persuaded to sit at a drum set.
Her therapist played a blues tune on the piano. Arielle, holding drumsticks, was expressionless and did not move.
But when the therapist stopped playing, Arielle began banging on the drum. When the therapist started playing again, Arielle stopped. She was clearly waiting for her next cue.
Their “conversation” with the instruments went on for several minutes.
Several smaller studies have been done on the efficacy of music therapy as an early intervention for autism, but nothing of this scope and size, Carpente said.
“The most important remaining challenge is to demonstrate generalized effects of music therapy – to what extent children are able to transfer the acquired skills to new situations and environments – and how many sessions are needed to achieve this important goal,” Christian Gold, the study’s lead researcher, said in an email interview from Norway.
Gold, a professor of the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Center of the University of Bergen, said he and others want to build on a 2006 Cochrane Collaboration review published by John Wiley & Sons that found music therapy worked better than a placebo with respect to verbal and gestural communicative skills.
Music therapy has gained in popularity over the past decade as a treatment for children with autism, said Al Bumanis, spokesman for the American Music Therapy Association, a Maryland-based professional organization representing about 4,000 practicing music therapists.
“Parents discover that music does hold their interest and intrigue the kids,” Bumanis said.
Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.-VICTOR HUGO
Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.-HERBIE HANCOCK
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.-ALDOUS HUXLEY
Music is well said to be the speech of angels.-THOMAS CARLYLE
Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.-WILLIAM CONGREVE
Weekly music therapy sessions lasting just an hour can have a positive effect on behaviour in children with autism, reports a paper in Pertanika Journal this month. In a study of 41 children, improvements were seen particularly in inattentive behaviours over a ten month period. The researchers hope that their research will help children and young adults with autism to modify behaviour.
US Centers for Disease Control statistics state that one in every 150 children in United States is diagnosed with autism — that is one new diagnosis in every 20 minutes. And the number is on the increase. Music and movement therapy has been used to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation.
C M See of the Universiti Sains Malaysia divided the group into two age categories — two to ten and eleven to twenty two — and rated their behaviour on a target behaviour checklist developed specifically for the research. Over a ten month period they alternated two different hour-long sessions of music therapy and measured the children on the target behaviour checklist on a monthly basis. For behaviours such as restlessness, aggression toward other children, noisiness and tantrums more than half of each group improved by one or two points on the scale.
Some children showed no changes and a couple regressed. Overall the research suggests that the therapy has positive effects on the children’s behaviours, but particularly with inattentive behaviour.
- The Impact Of Music (beyondautismawareness.wordpress.com)
- Alexandria music therapist gives voice to disabled (sfgate.com)
- Autism and Improvisational Music Therapy (musictherapyautismportland.wordpress.com)
Ask Ian Engelsman his musical inspirations, and he’ll give you an earful.
Dokken, Slaughter, Skid Row and Twisted Sister. White Lion, W.A.S.P., Judas Priest and, his mother’s favorite, Pink Floyd. He doesn’t care much for The Who. And, did you know, nearly all of the songs on The Outfield‘s album featuring their hit, “Your Love,” are only about 3 minutes long?
Ask Ian about his bright blue Ludwig drum set, and he’ll explain the different types of drums. Snare. Bass. Toms.
That instrument on a stand next to him? That’s a cowbell. And the copper-spun cymbals, those are noisy percussion instruments, Ian points out.
“Playing the drums is kind of like my thing,” Ian says simply.
Five years ago, Ian didn’t speak — not even about drums. He didn’t look people in the eye. And he surely didn’t twirl drumsticks between his fingers after freestyling for visitors.
Ian is autistic, and but not for the drums, his parents say, he would still be exhibiting the behavior that made him an isolated, muted child.
“The drums, they’re like our lifeline,” said Claudia Engelsman, Ian’s mother.
Looking back, the drums have always been Ian’s “thing,” his parents said.
At age 4 — not long after receiving the autism diagnosis — Ian was like many children his age, banging on pots and pans he pulled out of kitchen cupboards, said his dad, David Engelsman.
But about three years ago, Ian started playing with other items he found in the kitchen. He retrieved empty jars and bottles, turned coffee cans upside down and wrapped paper plates in tinfoil.
Then, he played music.
“He had rhythm,” said Claudia, who studied music and played the guitar.
She bought Ian a set of cheap toy drums from the drugstore. Ian fastened his makeshift instruments to the set and kept playing.
“I told David, ‘There is something here,'” Claudia said.
That Christmas, Santa brought 9-year-old Ian his first real drum set. After that, Claudia started looking for music classes for Ian. But as soon as she mentioned her son’s autism, doors shut, she said.
“It’s the leprosy of the 21st century,” she said.
But then Claudia found Musical Beginnings in Orchards, not far from their Vancouver home. They welcomed Ian — and his autism.
After 10 minutes of playing, Ian’s teacher was pulling other teachers in to hear the 9-year-old beat on the drums.
“They said, ‘He’s a natural,'” Claudia said.
From there, Ian began to flourish.
Ian’s coordination improved. He was no longer bumping into things. He could color inside the lines.
He began talking without being prompted. He became focused. He gained self confidence.
The music classes — coupled with a school program Claudia fought hard for, one tailored to Ian’s needs — resulted in more success.
Ian stopped running from his parents. His violent episodes dissipated. His IQ jumped from 76 to 130. He earned awards, musical and academic. And two years ago, Ian learned he no longer needed occupational and physical therapy.
The drums are his therapy.
“He said, ‘Don’t ever take away the drums,'” Claudia said of Ian’s psychologist.
Ian’s success hasn’t been limited to his behavior.
Since picking up his first set of drumsticks, Ian’s playing has drawn the attention of others.
Just a few months after he began drum lessons, Ian decided to participate in his school’s talent show. He took first place.
After the talent show, the Silver Star Elementary School band teacher asked Ian to join the band.
“It was so rewarding,” Claudia said.
Since then, the offers have continued for Ian. He was given a solo act in his first recital. Middle school band teachers ushered him into their classes. And he’ll play drums with a band in the upcoming Portland Rose Festival.
The praise and recognition have helped to balance the countless times Ian was told “no,” the times he was ostracized, criticized and judged, Claudia said.
Now people are taking notice of Ian, not for his disability but his ability.
“You have no idea how many times he’s been rejected,” Claudia said. “But now, the drums have opened, maybe not other doors, but doors that offer opportunities.”