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make your day dance

Children with autism: dancing together

January 18th, 2011 · 6 Comments · Tags: ··

They arrive every day, my students with autism, barefoot & ready.  I don’t always have a great idea of how I’m helping them, but it’s no longer so daunting as it was at first!  We’ve come a long way.

Each of my 2 classes is a little older this year & more experienced with school.  There’s a whole team pulling for them: teachers, instructional assistants, occupational therapist, physical therapist, tutors, student helpers.  And the team is more consistent now — not so many one-day-only substitute assistants.

The younger class (K-2nd?) has added 3 students, with each new student upsetting the apple-cart of behavior & consistency.  With 9 now, the class is overloaded. Still, our days are better than most of last year & it probably helps that Milly the Wanderer* transitioned to a different program.

The older class (2nd-4th?) is pretty settled, especially since Cedrick the Screamer* was relocated to a class in another school. One of the twins moved from the younger class to the older class, given his readiness to be working in a different group.

We still do many of the activities, or variations on them, that we did last year (BrainDances, obstacle courses, Freeze Dances, props), but some of our new successes have come in the area of dancing & [literally] pulling together…

With the children sitting on stools, I pass out segments of a huge elastic band.  To the simple song of Frere Jacques by Caspar Babypants (Caspar Babypants is Chris Ballew of the The Presidents of the United States of America), we pull & release the band.  On alternating phrases of the music, we pull the band backwards to make it HUGE (“frere Jacques, frere Jacques”) & let it shrink inward to a smaller circle (“dormez vous, dorvez vous”), pull it big again (“sonnez le matin, sonnez le matin”), &. change rhythms in-out-in, out-in-out (“ding, dong, ding… ding, dong, ding”). Lo & behold, they can do it together!  We’ve even tried it standing, which amazingly, was more successful with the littler kiddos than the bigger ones.

Sitting on the floor, with our feet under a parachute, we move together to the song Dust Bunnies (also Caspar Babypants, very soothing & the imagery of the dust bunnies under the bed helps with the feet being under the parachute).  We wiggle toes, kick feet, lift the parachute & see each other underneath, pull it down & see each other over the top… We’ve even extended our repertoire to lifting it, scooting under, sitting on the edge & then kicking our feet.  Or rippling the parachute & taking turns walking across the ripples, one at a time.

Another song that’s been great for taking turns & developing individuality has been Gotta Shake [when the spirit says “shake”].  I start it with one verse, and then I ask each child to take a turn “suggesting” a move.  Some of the kids actually have an idea & can barely contain it, while with others I have to invite them repeatedly, watching for a clear move that we can replicate.  But everyone leads once, and the ideas are getting better & better.

Moving along… today I started the younger class on a few weeks of percussion.  Barely controlled chaos, but I’ve begun to recognize the beginning signs of progress.  It looks like we’re headed into new territory.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen the movie Temple Grandin, do.  It’s a must-see!

*Not their real names, or even their real personalities, but definitely the qualities that they seemed to personify during their time with me.

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Kerry Bevens


    I love this article. I am looking to set up a dance class for children with autism and it really inspired me. I would love to work with someone to reach this goal. Thank you!

  • megrm

    Kevin — Thanks for coming by! I’m posting about my adventures with my students with autism precisely because I didn’t find much help online when I began 18 months ago. I was clueless! But I’ve combined great advice from some key colleagues with lots of experiments & am pretty satisfied with the progress we’re making! Check back with questions if you have them & best wishes on your venture!

  • Deborah Robson

    There’s a wonderful, wonderful blog by a teen with autism (and apraxia: cannot speak with her mouth) at

    A delight! Older than the kids in your classes, but . . . well, a vision for some of their futures?

  • megrm

    Lovely! Thanks for pointing the way. Unfortunately, I’m sitting at a Starbucks on Cliff Rd in Santa Barbara, which isn’t caching fast enough to get the link… can’t get online at Dorcas’s cause she doesn’t remember the password for her modem. But I will check this out next week when I’m home again — and pass it along to others! Thanks!!!

  • gypsy ingram-stow

    they have come such a long way treating autism, since I rotated through their special learning institutions in my hurses’ training in the 70s. this is so heartwarming to know you are reaching these young folks. god bless you for your kindness and efforts to make the less fortunate live fuller lives. only special teachers who are gifted could do this. wishin you and your students the best.

  • megrm

    Thank you! Although I’m sure things have come a long way already, I have a sense there’s a great deal of further potential. One of the reasons I keep writing & sharing about my experiences is in the hope that there will be more & more information online for people like me who are generally untrained in specific methods, but nonetheless in a position to help.