A couple months ago I noticed that my son, Corbin (almost 5yrs old/preverbal/autism) was serenading me regularly. While I usually couldn’t make out the songs he was singing, it was a beautiful rendition of something that he was hearing. Sometimes I was able to tell by the tune and tempo what song it was, and other times I just enjoyed my littler composers blissful songs.
What I realized though was that while he rarely showed interest in music by getting up to dance, singing along or even acting excited when it came on, it was all registering and getting into his head. I started playing more music in the car, and in the house and noted he would come running into the room to hear certain familiar tunes. Prior to his regression into autism Corbin loved music, and we even have videos of him singing along to Frozen’s “Let It Go.” I remember missing his little voice singing that song as the rest of the world cursed its repetition. It seemed, however, that his love for music had dissipated, or so we thought.
Upon realizing that music is a language he loves and understands I began learning about music therapy for children on the spectrum. Since Corbin is in pre-k and music is an integral part of his daily program, I didn’t attempt to get it in his IEP (Individual Education Plan) although next year when he starts Kindergarten I aim to get it approved. In the interim I wanted to connect with someone who could tell me more about it and after a google search I found Beth McLauglin, a board certified music therapist at Wildwood in Schenectady. It was almost serendipitous because as it turned out she was retiring from her 30+ years providing music therapy for special needs children and open to doing a music class with my son.
I had the pleasure of sitting in on her music therapy class at Wildwood before she retired and I was floored at how engaged, happy, and communicative these little kids were. I also fell in love with Beth and her passion for bringing the joy of music to help children overcome different challenges. She is gifted at her craft, and an absolute beautiful soul.
We quickly started a little make-shift music class with my two boys, and two friends of mine who have children on the spectrum as well.
Okay, 4 excitable, sometimes behavioral, screeching, running, erupting little boys in a room together is never a picnic, but this experience has been so beneficial to our boys, and guess what, I flipping love it too. Yes, I love pounding the drums, and singing the songs in an over animated, dramatic and explosive way. I often think that things curtailed for children with autism would be beneficial for everyone because at the core of it, it’s allowing people with communication challenges to freely express themselves. Do you know anyone who couldn’t use an outlet for free expression? A place where they feel accepted and understood and just get to be?
I’ve come to look forward to this time with my friends and our children, and to value the effort and skill that Beth puts into making each session beneficial and enjoyable.
Corbin often scoots off to a corner busying himself with some maracas or egg shakers seeming not to be engaged, although often Beth or myself are able to get him included in a song or activity before he retreats back to his corner, or wanders over to the drums. Upon first glance you might not know that Corbin is picking up on everything going on. On the drive home his happy little voice belts out tunes, and his little giggles assure me that he’s picking things up, and will over time be able to apply the things he’s learning more tangibly but for now I’ll take the humming and happiness as a gold star for music class.
Landon (6 yrs old) is currently the only child in the class without an autism diagnosis, but it’s not wasted on him. He is really enjoying it, participates from start to finish, absolutely loving the structure, and all the outlets for running, jumping and singing. He also loves that Jacob (7yrs ASD) and Sean (6 yrs ASD) who are both his close friends, are more likely to connect with him during music. Sometimes Beth will sing “Sean give Landon a high five” and Landon’s face lights up because he really loves getting that interaction with his friend. Sometimes Landon will partner with Jacob on the drums, and it’s great to see them taking turns, and enjoying each other so much. I also love having an activity that my two sons can do together.
I think one of the difficult things for me regarding Corbin’s diagnosis is how hard it’s been to find things that both my boys enjoy. They are so close in age and yet the gap seems insurmountable at times. I love that they have this class together. It means a lot to my mommy heart.
Jacob is probably our most animated character at music. He jumps right into it and from start to finish that kid has a plastered smile on his face and has all the hand motions and words to every song down pat. We’re talking about a kid who thinks that the iPad fell straight from heaven and on to his lap, so the fact that he’s happy to retire his beloved iPad in exchange for running, jumping, and singing has definitely put a smile on his mom’s face.
Sean has probably had the greatest challenge acclimating to the class as he has more sensitivities to light and noise, as well as a stronger need for routine. Beth and Sean’s Mom worked together to improve the environment and structure of the class so that he could be more comfortable participating. He uses a first and then chart so that he knows which songs are coming next, and because Sean loves to “run run run” it’s been incorporated into the program after every two songs. Sean’s face lights up at “run run run” time and I know his moms does too as she watches her son playing with his friends with a freedom that moms of children on the spectrum don’t always get to see. There is often a lot of anxiety and sensory challenges for children with autism so seeing them find relief from that and truly enjoy their surroundings is always a gift. Sean is such a sweet and heartfelt little boy and there’s something very magnetic about his personality. Most weeks he gives us all a big smile when he belts out a portion of a song with those dancing eyes of his.
Below is a picture of our adorable little music class that we have all fallen in love with. It’s brought our boys closer together, and given us a deeper appreciation for how music can be used to celebrate their strengths and improve on challenges. Also I think I deseve a championship ribbon for capturing this photo of all of them sitting at one time.
Beth expects to have some openings at an upcoming class in the Albany area in the next couple months and if anyone would like to connect with her, or learn more about music and it’s benefits for children with autism, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to pass it along to Beth or connect you with other resources in our area.