By Joanne Lara, MA —
A definition is just that, a definition, a technical term for an idea or article. In this case, the definition of autism is defined by the Autism Society of America (ASA)as “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.”
No one wants to be labeled or ‘categorically defined’ in this day and age, where we all struggle on a daily basis for autonomy, and in the 70’s, what Andy Warhol referred to as “our fifteen minutes of fame.” With this said, what if your child is born with autism?
How much tougher does your job as a parent get? As a society, we are now moving past the ‘doom and gloom’ of special needs and formulating strategies and education programs to assist our children on the autism spectrum. One area of interest is the newfound embracing of the arts as therapies for our kids. Where once, and not too long ago, art therapies were considered second rate to the traditional therapies, and where many parents and professionals would not entertain the idea that dance, movement, music, visual arts, theatre, animation and the like were compatible to traditional therapies or even advantageous, this has all changed. We now know how important the arts are for our children’s brain development, which in turn serves out kids not only cognitively but also in the social and behavioral deficit domains as well.
So much has the pendulum swung the other way, that we are now seeing large organizations like Autism Speaks fund grants at Harvard University to study how movement and music affects the brains of individuals with autism. We have come a long way in the acceptance of the arts as fundamental tools and strategies that not only benefit our kids, but become pathways both literally and physically to academic achievement as well as social inclusion and community acceptance.
Social skills are a huge challenge for our kids. They have difficulty in both speaking and the pragmatics of speaking (ideas of language) which are the foundation of all human social interaction. Our kids are often not able to turn a conversation, initiate a conversation or sustain a meaningful conversation due to speech and language impairment.
Arts for our Kids is the new campaign slogan. I designed a program, Autism Movement Therapy, for individuals with autism that specifically works to integrate the left and right hemispheres of the brain, by jumpstarting the transmission of the information from left to right hemispheres through the corpus callosum we are now seeing progress in the speech and language areas of the brain. We know and studies indicate that forward and backward movement and the starting and stopping motion and music helps to stimulate transmission of information in the brain. Hippotherapy, The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson, and music therapy (Oliver Sack’s study at Columbia University, Musicophilia) add insight into the stimulation of areas of the brain using rocking and music respectively. Visual arts such as painting and sculpture oftentimes require dormant brain areas to become activated and many of our kids respond to theater and the performing arts. It is important to find out how your child learns, visually or audio-ly and make certain that they have access to that modality through the arts, because the arts enrich and give meaning and understanding to ourselves and our world around us.
Dance and music forces the brain to reorganize itself. Through the music and the movement the individual is being asked to hear the music, process the sequence and the patterns, and then dance, it takes both sides of the brain to dance.
—Joanne Lara, ABC 7 Eyewitness News