Friday, February 23, 2007

A Bear Update

I haven’t written a post about the Bear in a couple of months, so I figure that now is a good time for an update.

One of the things we’re interested in for the Bear is music therapy. I still don’t know much about it, but another parent at our IBI school told me of a program that her son was in, how much he enjoyed it, and how she thought that it was really beneficial. I have to admit that music therapy was not previously high on my ‘should do’ list, but she gave the program a good review. Momma Bear and I gave it a quick bit of thought and came to the conclusion that this might be a good option to try. So I gave the therapist a call, and while there was no space available, we did secure a spot at the top of the waiting list. We didn’t expect to start the program until the summer.

The Bear LOVES musical interaction. I’ve never noticed her exhibiting any particular attraction to songs on her videos, but whenever my wife or I sing to her she absolutely loves it. She constantly gestures for me to sing to her (I never said she had good taste ;-) ) and Momma Bear can get her to positively beam with delight when she sings. The Bear does not seem overly interested in making music herself, although she does occasionally enjoy playing with the piano at my outlaws’ house, and will sometimes play with a keyboard at home. She also has some toys that play songs, and sometimes will press the button to play a few repetitions of certain songs.

Last week I received a call from the music therapist telling me that one of her clients was out of town for three weeks, so there was an opening if we wanted to take it. I said I’d take the first one and we’d see how it went, with the expectation but not a firm commitment to take the other two. (I offered to pay for the other two if we bowed out, but she said there was no need.) So the Bear went to her first session on Saturday morning. I sat at the back of the room and watched.

What a great experience! The therapist allowed the Bear to get acclimatized, which she did by doing a quick exploration of the room, and then the therapist sat in front of the Bear and started playing guitar and singing. The Bear loved it, and was hooked. When the therapist put down the guitar and started singing and playing a shaker, the Bear crawled up into her lap to participate. Over the course of the 45 minute session the therapist played different instruments, banged on various drums, shook tambourines and bells, sang, played a keyboard, and physically interacted with the Bear to determine how to gain her interest. She also gave the Bear various instruments to play. She encouraged her to explore, to play, to imitate, and was even able to get her to play her bells as part of some of the songs. With the exception of a couple of trips over to Dad to get her ‘milk’ and a couple of quick sessions on a rocking chair (to which the therapist added some music), the Bear maintained her interest and focus on the session and the therapist for pretty much the entire time, and was smiling and grinning throughout.

At the end, the therapist asked if we would be returning for the other two sessions. Very definitely. What was also interesting to me was that the therapist said afterwards that she was surprised by the Bear’s level of exploration and interaction, especially for a first session. I had previously told her that the Bear was assessed as ‘autism at the severe end of the spectrum’. While she said that she was not a doctor and did not ‘do’ diagnoses, from her experience the Bear was much more interactive than she would have expected. That was very heartening to hear.

The Bear is also doing well at school. Among other programs, she’s mastering or mastered shape shorting, shape puzzles, matching 3D objects (and as an added surprise stacked blocks up to 5 high), 2D objects, matching on colour, and among other tasks is working on matching quantities (e.g. moving three objects to match the number 3) and matching object categories (e.g. matching different cars to a cars category, or different dogs to a dog category). Her fine motor skills are improving with various exercises. She also appears to know her primary colours. When as a lark I tested her one day with various colours in assorted combinations – e.g. “which one is the red ring” - she got the first ten correct before she became bored and stopped me. Until then I had no idea she knew her colours by name.

We also expose her a lot to numbers and the alphabet, not in any particularly structured way, but instead to familiarize her with them and see what at this point she can pick up implicitly. We’ve noticed that she prefers complicated over simple visuals (e.g. she prefers the back of her video cases to the front, will spend a lot of time analyzing detailed and complicated pictures, and loves to get hold of my Economists and flip through them), which suggests to me that she is potentially analyzing and interpreting the complexity that she sees.

She has also very recently learned to drink with a straw. I consider this a big deal, as we can now use this as part of OT. I’ve come across a couple of OT exercises that use sucking and blowing through straws to encourage mouth control and coordination, which the Bear may have issues with. The evil Dad that I am, I’m also trying to teach her to stick out her tongue (and greatly look forward to the day when she does so (in)appropriately). She tries to imitate me, but she either twists it or makes a U shape. Again, helping improve her ability to use her mouth effectively may also help her to produce more sounds and ultimately learn how to speak.

The Bear also dances with us. Nothing too fancy, but she will sway from side to side and foot to foot to follow our lead, usually alternating her focus between our faces and our feet while trying to match our sway. Her IBI program can also get her to spin while dancing, and I’ve been able to get her to do this myself at times.

So, overall I’m quite pleased with how things are going. Whether one wants to credit her progress to IBI, our efforts, or just natural development (my money is on a combination of the three), the fact is that she is progressing, and we are seeing learning and growth. I fully believe that she is more capable than we know, but what we can see suggests considerable and even accelerating gains.

I wrote the above not to boast, as obviously there are children who are progressing both faster, slower, and on alternate paths to the Bear. There are also things that are clearly a challenge to her that we feel she ultimately needs to learn and overcome. Instead, the point I’m trying to make is that there is learning, and there is progress. All too often autism is presented entirely negatively, and with a bleak prognosis. At least in our case, we can also see good reasons for optimism and hope.



A guitar as part of autistic therapy?! Does this mean I get a chance to play my guitar (for her) under the guise of therapy? Having 5 kids, a hobby involving two hands is a luxury I don't often get to do!

We stopped music threapy maybe a year ago. But it was listening based and with headphones, maybe a more interactive approach might be more advantageous. Liv's starting to 'sing' along with the Dora the Explora theme (monotone AAAA but its one of those exiting sounds she make at ONLY that time.

It seems far fetched, the music therpy angle, but I feel like all terapies have some benefits maybe only for some kids. Horseback riding is another one of those that seems to be incongruous at first glance, but the proprioceptics (SP?) work for many.

I'll have to try music on Grace to, she LOVES to sing!

Good luck with it...

Ian Parker said...

Hi Bill,

You wrote:

”Does this mean I get a chance to play my guitar (for her) under the guise of therapy?”

I guess that depends on how good you are. Just kidding. ;-)

I’m now a big fan of music therapy. Previously I didn’t see how it would work for the Bear, as I assumed the goal was to teach her music. Given that she hasn’t shown any particular musical aptitude so far (which I clearly recognize does not mean that she never will), I thought that it would be of limited use at this time.

Instead, I discovered that music can be a valuable tool to reach the child, to gain their attention, focus, joint attention, participation, and interaction. In this role, for the Bear, I can already see evidence that music will work very well. We had the second session today, and given that we only have one more before going back on the wait list, the therapist recommended a ‘train the trainer’ approach. That will enable us to continue using music as a vehicle to teach other skills. And who knows? Maybe she will show musical aptitude.

I don’t know how well it would work for other children, but I would suggest that any child who shows any interest or response to music would be a potential candidate. That is one of the things I like about it - it is respectful of the child's interests. Without any interest from the child it probably would not work.

Give it a shot. You may find that if you use it as a tool rather than just teaching music that it works well – especially if Daddy is the teacher. Heck, if the Bear responds to my musical abilities (sic) then anything is possible.

Wade Rankin said...

Does this mean I get a chance to play my guitar (for her) under the guise of therapy? Having 5 kids, a hobby involving two hands is a luxury I don't often get to do!

Actually, yes. I've been doing just that for the little Rankster, and it has been great for both of us. Give it a shot.

María Luján said...

Hi Ian
Music is wonderful for my son and I as a bridge of communication. He loves to dance - and he loves to hear music in the PC from the CDs- the iTunes and so on.
Sometimes, we sit in front of the PC, he chooses a song (from Phil Collins) or some songs from Disney movies, he sits on my legs, faces in front the PC put his hands in my hands, controls the tone to be confortable to his hearing and we hear the music and we move our hands together; sometimes I direct the movement; sometimes he directs the movement. One up, one down left right one left one right combinations and changes with rhytm ( different finger movements, different hands movements) .He only changes the pressure on my hand to let me know when to stop directing or he relax his hands to let me know to regain control.And he puts over and over different songs...We have been up to 30 minutes this way...very nice. Sometimes he stand up, selects another song-one he likes to dance with , says "UPA-Quiero bailar" (this is very spanish to say "carry me on I wanna dance") and we dance- after this mom needs a vacation because he weights now near 26 kilos therefore my back hurts after other 30 minutes of dancing through the whole house my son UPA on me.. but it doesn´t matter :)
Very glad to hear the Bear is progressing. Surely she will appreciate the heart in your shared music. Do not worry about your musical abilities.
There is a song in my country. The
"Arroró", It is a song for the bedtime, for toddlers.A year ago, I begun to repeat it to him and he liked it- not before. Now, sometimes, he is in bed and get close to me- sitting near the bed in a chair or near the end of the bed- and in tiny voice begins to sing the song...and I follow. He takes my hand in his hand and slowly begins to sleep.
Sometimes, it is like being in the border for me waiting and watching and when he wants, we share a lot of musical moments based on his interests- and sometimes also it is a possibility to introduce him to the world of patience and acceptation of alternatives =another song, another place even another play, the vestibular balance when dancing-sometime ago he did not want to spin I think, because of vestibular problems, etc. Music has been very very helpful, at home and at the kinder.At the kinder it has been extremely helpful for social interactions.
Definitely for me music as communication tool has been and is important because he is very interested on hearing music and dancing with music.

Kyra Anderson said...

oh, i'm so excited for bear! what a great experience the music therapy sounds like. i love that she enjoyed it. and YES! bear is progressing, growing, learning, and seems very interactive and tuned in. i think our kids are SO much more tuned in than it may first appear. i think they're taking things in with their WHOLE bodies.

Shawn said...

It all sounds like great growth for the Bear.

I think we all could use some of that music therapy.