Autism Movement Therapy

I love working with people of all ages and abilities. I currently run a class for adults with disabilities and many of them have autism, or are somewhere on the spectrum. I love this group. They are genuinely one of my favourites ones to teach. We have so much fun, and I love their creativity and ability to work together, while helping and supporting one another.
Before I left London, I did a year apprenticeship with Alison Golding, studying and learning her Developmental Dance Programme with her company, Movement Works. I have since helped her deliver workshops and presentations at the touring Autism Shows, all across the UK.

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As Ali is  a dance scientist, she has information around how movement can be used as a detector of autism or early intervention for children age 3-7 years. Often movements can show signs of autism before the age of speech and language, which are often used as a detector. Early intervention can make a massive difference to a child’s life with autism, and introducing movements that can scientifically improve symptoms from such a young age can be vital in the child’s development, for both them and their families. I love Ali’s work. She has created a 36 week programme that works across the year in education settings. It works in mainstream classes, and has proven particularly beneficial for those with autism. It works with mainstream and SEN (special educational needs) participants together and inclusively. Children need role models, not segregation.

As Ali’s programme works for the younger ages, she has collaborated with Joanne Lara, Autism Movement Therapy founder from the LA., who has created a dance programme specifically for ages 7 and up with Autism. Her work looks at what causes Autism, how we can improve symptoms by wakening up both the left and right sides of the brain and how we can do this through movement. These classes, unlike Movement Works, are specific for people with Autism, and Joanne talks all over the world about her findings through these classes and how they can used to encourage development in speech and language, social skills, memory and learning.

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Both Ali and Joanne wish to share the message that movement really can work. Joanne shares this by delivering training worldwide that allow people to deliver her class, which has worked develop so many of her participants.

She recently undertook one of these in London, and I trained with her, learning the science behind what she does and how to deliver the Autism Movement Therapy itself.

We studied case studies, and appropriate behaviour techniques to try. We looked at how to study data on behaviours to appropriately create Behaviour Intervention Plans to try to extinguish bad behaviours, and to work with the participants to make them feel more welcome in our society.

Joanne is currently working hard on getting people with Autism into employment, as the rate for employees with Autism is low. Therefore she is trying to encourage society appropriate behaviours outwith the home, and that all her practitioners should encourage this also when teaching Autism Movement Therapy.

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We got an amazing (and large – there’s going to be loads of hours of reading for me to do now!!) handbook with lots of reading, facts and scientific information in it, as well as ideas and stimulus for teaching.

What we need to do when delivering Autism Movement Therapy is to create a structured environment that is judgment free. We want somewhere where people can learn and excel, and socialise and dance! Movement and music can often work as the bridge to learning for people with special needs, and being certified in Autism Movement Therapy gives me a direct method to apply to my teaching.

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Autism is a neurological brain difference that profoundly effects a person’s ability to communicate, form relationships with others and respond appropriately to the environment. Diagnosis is done when a person shows all three symptoms.

Often the corpus callosum (the bridge that connects the left and right sides of the brain) doesn’t allow information to transfer. That’s why movement (right side) and sound (left side) can stimulate this. It allows both sides of the brain to work at the same time, and the corpus callosum to be strengthened. Movement and music require both sides of the brain to come to attention. Therefore, dance class to music can be the perfect way to develop both sides of the brain, as well as helping with spatial and body awareness and sensory integration.

Autism Movement Therapy is also about repetition. We all love repetition in dance. When choreographing, so often it is what resonates for me – providing the audience recognition of the work during it. Ballet is one of the most popular of art forms, and each class contains an awful lot of repetition. We learn through repetition, but we also like knowing what we are doing. Repetition allows us to see our own progression.
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Classes use mirrors because they help us to excel as we are seeing and doing at the same time. Our brain can process what it sees as well as what it does. Studies have been done that show children excelled when using mirrors – on average children increased their IQ by ten points in a twelve week study. The brain remembers what it sees, and if seeing something you have done while watching yourself do it in a mirror, mirror neurons fire up even if you are no longer doing it. This is the Mirror Neuron System.

We all need to work together to ensure our society is more inclusive. More diagnosis’ are allowing more people to reach the appropriate and necessary treatment, but it is important that we ensure there is not segregation. In 1980 only 1 in 10000 people were diagnosed with Autism, whereas today that number is more like 1 in 68.

Everybody is different. Everybody with Autism is different. They say, ‘If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve only met one person with Autism’. I wish to make my classes accessible to all, and to hopefully encourage those of all abilities, to allow them to develop and to give them a sense of belonging. I know we certainly have that with my current inclusive group. After all, the arts can be society’s equaliser, and for so many, a way to express.

I’m hoping to work together with Ali and Joanne to bring an Autism Movement Therapy certification training course to Scotland in Spring of next year. So please do get in touch if you or anybody you know would like information on how to attend. It’s available to parents, carers and teachers.

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I am also now qualified to teach Autism Movement Therapy, so please do get in touch if you would like to set up a class!

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