Today, in two seperate sessions, three examples of my blogs happened all at once, using “stims” in learning (http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/03/autistic-children-watching-for-developmental-learning-cues/): Frankie finding his voice (http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/06/frankie-finds-his-voice-where-words-fail-music-speaks/), using a different rule book (http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/04/the-yellow-brick-road-of-development-different-route-different-rules/), and recognizing significant development (http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/04/recognizing-development-and-its-significance-in-each-individual/). It did not come in a beautifully wrapped package, but it was very significant.
Today I had a session with “Frankie”. “Frankie”, a couple months ago, found his voice. He found it by taking turns playing the recorder with me. He found he was able to become vocal after using the recorder. Next, I gave him a toy microphone. He blew into it and quickly became discouraged, expecting his voice to come out. He then quit attempting to retrieve his voice. Today however, Frankie figured it out for himself. Frankie figured out how to work with his own body to get the desired result. Today, as we played “your turn – my turn” with the recorder, Frankie again would softly vocalize. I observed this a few times, then after sang “ah-h” into the microphone. As I sang “your turn”, handing Frankie the microphone, he again blew into it. This time I told him “good job” and continued the music and the routine without pause. Frankie did not get discouraged this time. We did this repetitively enough times that he realized if he made fists and contracted his torso muscles, sound came out. As he realized this and produced sound intentionally, he looked at me and smiled each time. He smiled a smile of pride and accomplishment. Today, Frankie could get the desired result himself. Something from his biology was finally under his control.
Later, another non-verbal child, “Eddie”, came in for his session (Eddie was seen in last week’s blog – Ready for Take Off). Eddie’s mother had told me before his session that she was happy to report that now Eddie was attempting to communicate through pointing and gesturing. Also, he was beginning to produce “pop out words”. Today Eddie, a non-verbal child, who until recently only attempted to communicate through tantrums, watched outside the room as his mother took a sibling to use the bathroom. Apparently a little sibling rivalry or possibly turn taking evolved. Eddie kept gesturing to me by putting his hand on the doorknob to go. As I tried to ignore this, in order to continue the session, he began taking my hand and putting it on the doorknob. When I continued to ignore, he finally held himself as if he had to go to the bathroom (at age 7, toilet training has not yet been accomplished). After quizzically asking Eddie, “Do you have to use the bathroom?” he looked at me. Again, he looked at me with a bug eyed sustained exacerbated look as if to say, “Finally, lady. What took you so long?” Eddie had used cognition to calculate and was not dependent on sensory feedback alone. He was able to watch, understand, and control his decision appropriately. Eddie was able to absorb extraneous information, control his understanding, and react.
Was Eddie playing much music today? No, not much today. Remembering the last session however, (http://backmountainmusictherapy.com/2012/07/disconnect-to-self-regulation-all-systems-go-ready-for-take-off/), of getting ready for take off, this was significant. I enjoy happy, highly visible productive sessions, but the consistent expectation of seeing results each time is unrealistic. What happened this day was a result of consistent turn taking playing music together. Frankie and Eddie had begun to function independently, and isn’t that the point? You may be wondering what the picture of the bird has to do with this blog. It is an actual bird who has made a nest in a Rhododendron bush right outside my Music Therapy room. Upon going to take this picture, another bird landed and fed this one worms. It turns out this bird in the nest is either a mother getting ready to birth, or a baby bird not yet independent. This bird stays in the nest and is being fed so that development can occur (all the while listening to the children’s music).
Autistic or not, children are not merely robots that we continually program to point to the right answer, drilled till they win the spelling bee or get to the top of the class. Children need consequences and rewards to learn from, and they need tools to use. They have to be fed what they need. The more intrinsic the reward is, the more life changing the outcome. Independent development does not occur because of receiving an award, a certain grade, or executing a certain behavior so many times. Development and independence occur along a path over time, bit by bit.