“Rock Around the Clock” Elicits First Word


Click here to hear Charles’s Song: Charles Song( Next click; ste-002)

Little Charles likes to leave me a gift before every holiday. He always does something unexpected, yet highly needed the last session before each holiday. This last session before Easter break, non-verbal Charles said his first word while climbing the stairs -“up”.

Charles began Music Therapy in October 2011. Charles, a three year old non-verbal client initially demonstrated very, very little fine and gross motor strength, and few cognitive abilities. Soon after beginning music therapy, Charles began to blossom. When he entered Music Therapy, it took both of his delicate hands to depress a single piano key and still not elicit a sound from the instrument. Just like his little hands, Charles didn’t make much sound beyond breathing. Charles was ambulatory and had the physical ability, but did not do much by his own motivation due to his very low arousal level. It appeared that first, Charles needed to get his motor running and life up those arousal levels. “Charles’s song” was developed following his very minimal movements and breathing. Before Christmas break, Charles was sitting at the piano kicking the foot board on the white upright piano as his sustained, vocalized aria came soaring out. The therapists and teachers who worked with Charles kept saying what changes they were beginning to see (those comments continue today just as frequently). Charles was like the newborn who cries at the awakening of their birth. Charles had emerged with his cry, an aria.Click here to hear Charles’s Song: Charles Song( Next click; ste-002)

I had not heard much more since that time other than the little grunts of effort that he gave when he climbed the stairs that came up to his little knees. However I noticed the accelerated development of a newborn. Charles was now picking things up and tossing them back down. He reminded me of my son Michael who enjoyed tossing single cheerios from his high chair when he was small. (That was a while ago; now he’s 6’7”.) Still today, whenever I hear a crunch under foot in the kitchen, I’m sure it must be a Cheerio.

The lively music really supported and gave Charles the jump start he seemed to need. This raising of arousal levels consequently alerted Charles to the outside world and peeked his interest in it. Now his muscle strengthening skills, adjoined to his interests in picking things up and tossing them were paired with the music. I filled a toy grocery cart with bean bags for Charles to take out and put in, and put out a three foot board over a small block of wood that worked in the same way as a see-saw. The bean bags gave Charles’s  little fingers an easy squeeze muscle strengthening, grasping work out while the weight of the bean bags added a little resistance for gross motor endurance of his arms. Simultaneously, as Charles took the grocery cart back and forth over the see-saw, his entire body got a little work out with the slight resistance of an incline and pushing. These actions, of course were put into words with the music. Anytime he threw the bean bags on the floor, the responsive language gap was aided with the word and actions “put them in”. Singing his name first aided in helping respond to being addressed verbally and following a direction. Charles soon began to demonstrate more eye contact, smile, and began to gesture for his wants and needs in and out of the therapy room Click here to hear Charles’s Song: Charles Song

Because Charles was allowed and supported in these repeated actions, (with his song adapted to his current strengths and needs) he began to grow out of them and wander off to new things. This week I eliminated the grocery cart and bean bags and Charles went straight for the drums, exercising his arms that way. Now we are working on endurance of the strength he has begun to build.

Why was this very simple, repetitive music paired with a repetitive, mundane task eliciting so much from Charles? Charles was listening with his brain and his whole body:Click here to hear Charles’s Song: Charles Song

Listening is a whole brain, whole body experience. We might think of listening as a process that occurs primarily in the ears; however, in reality, when we listen, the whole brain light up. Processing sound creates connections in multiple locations in the brain, including the brain stem, the cerebellum, the reticular formation and the cortex. Since listening involves so many levels in the brain, it exerts influence over a wide range of biological functions, including emotional tone, arousal levels, activation of core postural muscles and sensory modulation and integration.” (Kathleen Morris MS,CCC/SP, Insights Into Sensory Issues, 2010p.86)

     We listen with not only our conscious mind, but also unconsciously. When a certain sound catches our attention, it takes the lead in our minds over other sound and we respond to it. The sound energizes our entire body to activate a response.: Click here to hear Charles’s Song: Charles Song

At the end of this last session before Easter break, Charles and I started back up the long stairway to Charles’s classroom. I heard the usual grunt as his first foot stepped to the next stair and he used all his effort to pull his second foot up to join the first. Going up the stairs takes us a little time. I started to sing “up, up, up” to the tune of “Rock around the clock” The next grunt I heard had form. . . “up”. Did Charles say this purposefully? No, I don’t think he even knew he said it. It seemed more like a subconscious response. But Charles’s brain heard “up” in a predictable, comfortable fashion. Like “pop up” words,  with repeated, structured practice there is a very good chance that Charles may learn to gain control of this word and use it purposefully.

     To illustrate my point, I have put Charles’s little adapted song on the blog to play repeatedly as you read. Besides the research, several people whom I know, who watched and read the earlier blog “Autistic Children, Watching for Learning for Developmental Cues”  told me that after watching and hearing my first video, “I couldn’t get that song out of my head all day!” It was just the reinforcer I needed. This repeated music that is slightly altered for each new response establishes a secure, predictable,  environment  providing a safe place for building on existing strengths and allowing development to occur.

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