It’s Autism Awareness Month … Are We Aware?
Mrs. Denie Riggs
Music can heal autism.
I cringe to even be so bold as to speak those words. Yet we know what we have witnessed in our students across the last twenty years.
It’s Autism Awareness Month. Are we aware?
Recently, while setting up our school’s window showcase, I wrote “Autism Awareness Month” on a window sign. As I wrote those words, it hit me.
Autism Awareness. As a culture, “Are We Aware?”
Are we aware of the ravages of autism?
Are we aware of the agonizing and mental exhaustion that family members face, as they give their loved one around the clock care?
Are we aware of the high incidence of divorce in couples who have a special needs child?
Are we aware of the devastation facing these families financially?
Are we aware of the billions of dollars of tax payer money that is going to their current care, and will go to maintain their care for the rest of their life?
We are all affected by autism even if we don’t have family members afflicted with this dreaded brain issue. And it’s a pretty dismal outlook. As we all seek answers as to the root cause of autism, family members grope for solutions to cope with the enormous load facing them.
I want to say to you, “There is Hope!”
You may say, “Yeah Denie, there may be hope, but I need more than hope; my child needs healing.”
Okay, let me be bold enough to say it, “Music can heal autism.”
Healing is a strong word; and it takes enormous effort to even speak that word when dealing with autism.
So why am I so bold? Because I have witnessed healing with my own eyes as the power of music has gone up against the ravages of this brain issue plaguing our society.
But, what do others say?
Let’s ask Beth. Beth was also non-verbal 4 – year old who was the first student to enroll in our Music4Me class for special needs. She began singing along with the Music4Me CD about 3 weeks after starting the music program, and later broke into language. “Do you like my pigtails, Mr. Michael?” was the first sentence she ever spoke outside of her home a few months later. That was 10 years ago. She is now a very beautiful teenager, chatting happily with her friends who don’t even know she had autism.
Let’s ask Ben. When we met Ben, he was a very low functioning, non-verbal 4-year-old. He was not sleeping and had digestive issues. They bought a Listening Therapy CD and began to play it in his bedroom, somehow rigging the music to play under his pillow. Ben began to sleep through the nights and then his breakthrough began. Through lots of prayer, nutritional counseling and music, Ben is now moderately functioning and plays the piano, transposing songs beautifully. He recognizes every model of vehicles on the road, and only must meet you once to remember your name and what kind of vehicle you drive.
Let’s ask David. David was a preemie, born at 26 weeks. His diagnosis was CP. David began our program at age 3. I’ve been his piano teacher for 15 years now! He is currently taking college courses online. David’s forte is music. Amazingly, because David has only 10% hearing, he is able to perform on perfect pitch vocally. He recently performed 25 minutes of memorized original classical piano pieces for his senior recital. Music has given David something to excel in and has enriched his life greatly in many non-musical ways.
Let’s ask Edward. Edward came to us when he was age 9 years. Edward was verbal but was unable to read and had zero comprehension. He had repeated the first grade a few times and was close to repeating it again. His mom drew pictures above words to try to help him cope with his school work. They had tried everything, but nothing had helped. Edward excelled at the piano and two years later graduated from our Early Childhood Music department performing beautifully at the piano, in five different keys, transposing and composing. But more importantly, as he engaged with the piano, his brain changed and began to excel in all academics. Mom began to home school him and he caught up with his peers quickly. I ran into her a few years ago and she informed me that academically he was two grades ahead of his peers and plays every musical instrument he picks up. He also speaks four languages. Amazing!
Autism and Music Case Study:
Based on these and many more stories from our music students, in 2012-13, I wrote a book called, Music Helps Autism documenting what we had witnessed over the years with special needs children. I was so excited to write it as I thought the world would jump up and down. Not so. We published it just before Autism Awareness Month, and I sent it out to all the news broadcasters, but no one picked up the story. So to further document what was happening at our school, we set up and orchestrated an Autism and Music Case Study the summer of 2013.
We outlined and documented a specific, four-level plan for musical engagement, culminating with the piano, the number one instrument for brain function enhancement. We focused and documented five specific areas: socialization, cognitive skills, musicality, language development and behavior.
In our study, 16 of the 18 students completing the case study exhibited improvement in these assessments. That’s 88.9% of the participants!
Two amazing categories stood out when all the results were compiled: Cognitive Skills and Language Development.
- Students who participated in more than 66% of the assigned musical engagements, averaged 26% improvement in cognitive function.
- Student who participated in less than 66% of the assigned musical engagements averaged 14% improvement in cognitive function.
This shows that the more we are engaged with musical activities, the greater the cognitive benefits.
The most astounding result of our 8 week case study was in the area of language development. 7 out of 10 children ages 4-10 years were declared to have no meaningful language at the start of our study. An incredible 5 out of 7 began to say new words within the 8 week study. Another child began speaking full sentences 9 months later.
86% of our non-verbal students began to speak new words, as a result of our case study. 71% of them within 8 weeks.
Our Non-Verbal Students Share Their Story (Taken directly from the Case Study)
- Student A-2: When this four year old student came into the study, he had a vocabulary of 5 words, which he would spontaneously mimic, but not use usefully. His breakthrough began in week 2 when his mom proclaimed he said “I love you” unprompted when picked up from camp. He also began saying his name in the studio music class.
- Student A-3: This four year old student came into the study only mimicking words, with no useful use of language. Week 4 his mom shared that he said “I love you” unprompted. That was the beginning of his continuing breakthrough into useful language. He also began singing along with the songs in the studio lessons.
- Student A-7: This five year old came in non-verbal saying only “Ma-ma” occasionally. Although he participated in 78% of the HomePlay assignments, he made no improvement in Language Development as documented in the case study.
- Student A-8: This five year old student began with a vocabulary of 50 words indicated on his application yet claimed to be non-verbal. When questioned about the opposing characteristics, the dad explained that he knew the meaning of words from working with flashcards, etc. (If you asked, “Where is the dog?” He would point to the dog.) During week 4 his father called me, weeping. He exclaimed, “My son is five years old and I have never heard his voice, until today. He has experienced a Helen Keller breakthrough!” Today he started speaking words out loud. After that, he began speaking in the music class and at home.
- Student A-9: This child began to speak when he was 16 months old. He later regressed, and when he came into the study at age four years, he was basically mute. Although he and his mom participated in 72% of the HomePlay activities, he did not experience language breakthrough during the eight-week study. His mom, however, reports of his improvement in communication with sign language and gestures to let her know his needs. Update: 2014. Although he did not breakthrough during our 8-week case study, but his mom didn’t give up and continued to do all of the music engagements that were part of the case study. Nine months later, he woke up one day speaking full sentences. The light switch had turned… what happened? No one knows for sure, but we believe (and so does his mom) that the power of music healed him.
- Student A-12: This four year old was diagnosed with echolalia with no useful use of his less than 20 word vocabulary. He mimicked only when prompted. His mom shared week 4 that he was trying to communicate, although she couldn’t understand all of his words. Week 7 she proclaims that he continues to communicate with the family all the time and his language is becoming clearer. He sang along with the songs, the last few weeks in the studio lessons.
- Student A-13: At the start of the study, this ten year old had only two words in her vocabulary, “love” and “bye”. She understood language, but didn’t use her voice to communicate. Considered hopeless, she was given a talk box to communicate with her family and her school teachers. Week 4 her mom gave testimony that she began saying “Mama”. She continues to make progress with spoken language saying new words each week.
So, can music heal autism? Yes.
Let’s look further in the researched power of music:
Are we aware that the human voice carries something in its vibration that makes it more powerful than any musical instrument?
Are we aware that a uterine cancer cell (under the microscope) annihilates itself in fourteen minutes when exposed to Mozart’s classical music, while it annihilates itself in NINE minutes when exposed to a woman’s voice singing solfege scales?
Are we aware that just passively listening specific types of classical music for 30 minutes every day, gives the lift of taking one Valium?
Are we aware that listening to this style of music for 15 minutes every day increases IL-1 in the blood building the immune system against aids, cancer and other diseases?
Are we aware that music affects endorphin levels which boost the immune system and enable the body to create its own anesthetic?
Are we aware that when a child under age five participates in bouncing, rhythmic interaction and piano-based activities, neural wiring takes place linking hemispheres, permitting higher learning, reasoning skills and enriched academics of math, reading and science?
Are we aware that insufficient oxygen in the blood may be a cause of immune deficiency and degenerative disease, while singing oxygenates the cells?
Are we aware that active musical participation (clapping, thumping, beating, tapping with music like we do in music class) enhances development to language, communication and perceptual skills?
Are we aware that when a person plays the piano and sings that the right brain and left brain flow together, formatting the brain for orderly storage and retrieval of information?
The power of music is greatly underestimated. Music is a God-given tool to enhance us– spirit, soul and body. Based on what we have witnessed in our special needs music program, shared in our Music Helps Autism book and carefully documented in our case study, a specifically formulated plan of involvement with music will enrich almost all children with special needs.
Based on recent documented percentages, nearly 1,400 babies will be born today who will never speak, and 1,400 more tomorrow, and so on. If this just started today, in 10 years there would be more than 5 million nonverbal individuals on our planet who have been told that communication is hopeless.
But there is hope … and there is healing.
Music can heal autism.
Let’s put the power of music to heal autism to work for your child today.
From Mrs. Denie Riggs:
You may also want to check out our products that were a part of the Autism and Music Case Study. I have hyperlinked them throughout the article for your convenience. Your child can participate in our musical program for children with autism no matter where you live, as we have virtual lesson structures in place. We will customize a program for each student. If you have questions or need further assistance we would be honored to talk with you.
What will your story be?