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make your day dance

Stunning silences, astonishing pauses

March 30th, 2011 · 5 Comments · Tags: ·

So here’s the post that’s been in my head for a couple of months, even though I’ve been too busy to get it down.  Now’s a good time for it, since I’ve been reflecting today on what it was like when I started teaching students with Autism.

The stunning silence happened back in January. I was working with all of my students on percussion, so my students with Autism were drumming too. Drumming with them involves a lot of disorganized noise. We worked on playing & stopping, playing & stopping, playing & stopping, but the stopping didn’t happen much. We worked on taking turns & listening to each other, but taking turns required moving the drum away from a few kids when it wasn’t their turn. We worked on rhythms, playing a simple rhythm over & over & over again while some of them came in & out of the groove. It was in the second week of drumming that a stopping moment came & they all stopped! There was absolute silence. And it happened again. And again. And again. That was a good day.

The following week, when we returned to dancing, an astonishing pause came in the middle of a “freeze” dance. The music stopped & they all stopped moving! Several were frozen with tension & intention, clearly having made their body stop. Others looked sort of tentative, almost like they had stopped by accident, with their internal juices still flowing, but on the outside they were no longer traveling. They were stopped. And it happened again. And again.

Nowadays, most days are amazing. Because we’re dancing together, as we never did last year…

  • During a partner rhyme, there’s one boy who has always done it with me, while others ignored us or did something alone. Lately, most of them are paired & moving with the rhythm.
  • The older class has an activity with an elastic band, where one student dances freely in the middle while the rest of us pull the elastic into a giant circular space for dancing. They take turns being in the middle, letting the circle shrink in order to change dancers.
  • During our closing yoga, I look around & all of the students are doing something related to the position.

There’s a long way to go, but we’ve come so far!


5 Comments so far ↓

  • Malke

    Oh my gosh, this is an amazing thing to read! It strikes me that you’ve given them a chance to be social and express themselves in a symbolic and kinesthetic realm without the pressures of how we usually expect kids to interact (looking someone in the eye, no body movements, appropriate use of verbal language, etc.)

    Just amazing! :)

  • megrm

    It’s been an amazing thing to experience! I think the concept of “parallel play” pretty well fits what we’re doing — and it feels like a huge step forward. It’s a good insight you have about the fact that I’m not requiring either eye contact or much direct interaction. Thanks!

  • Kerry Bevens

    I just started a class for autistic children and your post has really inspired me. The kids are 7-10. Any help that you could give woulde be great for structure.!! Thanks

  • megrm

    Hi Kerry — It’s great that you’ve gotten started, and I’m happy if anything I’ve said helps. The post right before this is a little about structure… I always start with a warm-up; I always do developmental movements (cross-lateral crawl & body half); we do a pause dance; I have a couple of folk dances (solo ones that I’ve modified to practice locomotor skills); a prop dance; and we finish with a yoga sequence. When I first started, an obstacle course figured large, with me leading them one by one through the obstacles. Don’t be afraid to repeat, with little changes each time. Keep me posted!

  • megrm

    Kerry, more… What I’ve neglected to tell you is that ANY lesson plan I create follows a consistent pattern: warm-up, concept development (identifying & focusing on one dance element), guided exploration, skill development and/or independent exploration, creative work or choreography & cool-down. Differences for classes of students with Autism: for the warm-up, I’m working on their overall body organization & developmental movements; it took me 15 months to be able to start focusing on concepts; lacking the ability to develop concepts, the skill development/independent exploration section focus on locomotor skills, turn-taking, navigation with props & obstacles; the creative part is free dance with a prop like a hula hoop; and the cool-down is always the same yoga sequence. See Anne Green Gilbert’s book on Brain Compatible Dance Education for structuring your lesson plan, and then give yourself the latitude to vary wildly with your Autistic students!