Sometimes part of the process of helping a child progress is validating that they are okay right where they are presently, even though where they are may be seen by statistics, norms, or by others as below the bar. Sometimes a child that hugs the safety of the known needs a little nudging. Other times, a child does not yet have all he or she needs to be “there” yet. Where he is is fine for now. This week the little boy who recently turned three, originally diagnosed with speech delay then changed to autism, came to Music Therapy. We tried having his sessions with just him and myself. However, this was too stressful to him. I discovered just having his parents in the room did not interfere with the therapy nor the relationship, but gave him the safety to relax and play. He could check back with his parents momentarily or demonstrate new developments that he was proud of, eliciting their pride and joy. Afterwards, he would come back and continue his play. As his speech and development playfully made fastidious gains, I decided this was working.
Carol Stock Kranowitz states in her book “The Out of Sync Child” “a close physical attachment to one or two primary caregivers sets the stage for all future relationships… Building on the primary mother child bond we begin to reach out to others gladly and comfortably… When we enjoy being near people, we learn how to play, one of the unique characteristics of being human. Thus it becomes possible to develop meaningful relationships.”
As the music accompanied the little boy’s movement, from one thing to the next, the constancy of the rhythm and tune aided the little boy in the ability to slow down, investigate the objects, then begin playing. As I narrated all he did and saw in song, his language began to explode. Still with a parent in the room, just ending our sixth month of therapy, the little boy came in to the room this day calling his father over to the NEWLY discovered trains. He wanted help putting the tracks together. He never asks for help, only gestures and calls his parent’s name. I sang “help me, help me, help me put the tracks together” behind his play. He began to use the words himself. I then began to name the color of the trains he chose (in song) until he began to answer the question himself. Gradually, he became more interested in his pretend, moved closer to the piano with his trains, and his father went to the other side of the room. He sat on the floor next to me playing and contently answering questions. I stopped playing for a moment, and he looked up at me and said “play” so I continued, he and I until the end of the session, with his father safely inside the door on the other side of the room. His need for a parent, language, play, and imagination were all nurtured and validated through the music. As his needs and interests of where he was was validated, it gave him the security and confidence to begin, not completely without a parent, but enough to seek out what he wanted from another adult himself. No, Dad did not leave the room today, nor did this little guy follow the adult direction to “do” something. He did however, initiate moving to the adult who had what he needed. He did find and begin to develop his own interest and play and most of all he listened – isn’t that what he needs most?
Antoinette Morrison MT-BC