We are overjoyed to finally make the Simply Music Gateway Program available to Simply Music Teachers and their students. In this post Karen Nisenson, its creator (along with Neil Moore) talks about the benefits of musical self-expression for those with special needs.
Imagine that you were unable to express yourself verbally, that no one could understand your thoughts and feelings, and that you never felt accepted or cared about. This is the reality for many children and adults with special needs for whom language is not a vehicle for communication.
Children who have speech delays, sensory overload and anxiety in social situations, difficulty processing information, or just can’t sit still, end up missing experiences that enhance the development of their typical peers. These children become isolated and defensive and ultimately lack the self- expression that is central to communicating feelings. Their isolation can be quite hard on the family. Parents seek out therapy after therapy, and school after school, in order to find the right set of circumstances that will help their child cope with challenges that affect everyday life.
As a career professional in the field of creative arts therapy and special education, I have seen what happens to children, teens and adults who do not have the capacity to express themselves. The lack of available vocabulary, neurologically-based processing issues, comprehension problems, and difficulty interpreting social cues, all contribute to withdrawal or behavioral problems that undermine daily functioning.
It is in their private world of intangible images, non-verbal expression and feelings with no names, that music offers an extraordinary path to connection.
With rhythm, melody and harmony engaging their body and mind, the child with special needs discovers that music leads to freedom, which in turn allows for relaxation, self-expression and learning.
The Simply Music Gateway Program encourages exploration of the keyboard, starting with structured improvisation, so the student can “play” from the very beginning. The program is designed with a carefully measured, step by step approach, so information is easily processed and understood. Poor or delayed fine-motor development is taken into account as finger strengthening patterns are introduced. Having spent decades developing this approach, it is a privilege for me to share this Simply Music Gateway Program with anyone who would like to take a new and creative approach to teaching those with special needs. Experiencing the differences in learning styles and verbal skills of all types of students will broaden any teacher’s ability to communicate new information. Discovering how music becomes the language that ultimately gets translated into words is deeply rewarding. Working with a student who has special needs and learning differences, and watching their self-expression just blossom and grow through the learning process, creates a very real and unique bond in the student-teacher relationship.
I have learned so much from all the students I’ve worked with over the years. Their unique personalities, learning styles and hidden potential contributed to my creating this program. The personal and musical goals are always connected, which is what makes the actual teaching so exciting. One student, for example, who is very musical, had a hard time accepting his new identity as a person ‘who can play the piano’. He was used to hiding behind his challenges and inability to verbally communicate.
After about a year of playing piano, he is now acknowledging his ability. He doesn’t withdraw as much, and doesn’t take as long to come to the piano to start his lesson. Using his hands in new ways – for self-care, buttoning his shirt, manipulating toys and typing on the computer – has definitely led to a stronger feeling of independence. The teacher-student relationship, and his ability to understand new ideas and experience musical choices in improvisation, have all added to the development and growth of this young man.
The Simply Music Gateway Curriculum is about taking the student’s lead and moving forward in a time frame that is most comfortable for them. If the student needs to stay on one task for a whole lesson, then it simply becomes a game about what else you can do to improvise or play with that one task or musical idea. For example, incorporating movement, drumming on anything that makes sound, clapping and singing are just a few ways to engage the student who needs these types of multi-sensory outlets in order to understand concepts being introduced.
The teaching experience itself becomes an improvisatory exercise, one that fosters self-expression, language and creativity. Through this process, the music becomes a kind of ‘auditory reflection’, mirroring where the student is at that particular moment, and giving him or her a very safe place in which to continue the path towards self-discovery.
Using the Simply Music Gateway Program is also a way to deepen your own potential for creativity, connection and musicality. The ongoing support that is offered, in conjunction with the richness, depth and simplicity of the training program, establishes a foundation that maximizes the likelihood of a powerful and successful teaching and learning experience.
I encourage all teachers to open their hearts and minds, as well as their teaching, to students of all ages who are on the autism spectrum, or who are dealing with the challenges and complexities involved in having any learning differences or developmental delays.
Please visit www.simplymusicgateway.com for further information, and join us in contributing to a world where musical self-expression is available to everyone.