Let’s be real here. As a the parent of a child with special needs, I have no illusions about how my child will participate in a structured music class. He struggles to follow more than one instruction or direction at a time, his hearing sensitivities often cause him to cover his ears, and if it’s not interesting to him… forget it.
My son can still participate to the best of his abilities and get GREAT sensory input, gross and fine motor development, and peer interaction. These classes build social skills, emotional skills, and self-confidence. They are predictable, due to the repetitive nature (all autism parents know how important predictability is, right?!) and dang it, they are just plain fun!
The key is finding a class, with a great instructor, who is willing to modify the class and be flexible with behavior. Research the program and reach out to the instructor with your concerns and suggestions. Get recommendations from friends! We personally have had great success with classes by Music with Mar and Zumbini instructors. Make sure the instructor knows your child’s differences and to expect behavior that may be out of the norm. Make sure they are accepting of that and able to adapt the class, as well as their teaching style.
Here are some suggested modifications:
For a child with hearing loss or deafness, the classes can sometimes be signed! Annmarie, who teaches Music with Mar classes at Kind Hearts Kids Gym Arvada, is fluent in American Sign Language and loves to use it during class. This is also great for non-verbal kids who sign!
For a child with limited vision or complete sight loss, the props used can all be inspected using hands. The kids can not only hear the music, but they can join in with their own individual instrument. They can also sing along when they become familiar with the songs. There’s that predictability again!
For a child on the autism spectrum, the flexibility is key. Here is where the instructor becomes very important. Find an instructor who doesn’t require a mandatory structure; one who goes with the flow. The class and instructor need to know it’s OK if a child is up wandering around. As long as they are in the room, they can see and hear what’s going on. I don’t know about you, but every single one of my children can hear me, even when they act like they aren’t listening. Just threaten to take away the iPad and it’s compliance city in my house. Also, kids can use noise cancelling headphones if the sounds are too much.
I admit, I have sold my son short in the past by not giving him the chance to try something because I didn’t think he would do it, enjoy it, or not freak the heck out about it. That’s not fair to him and I’m not a wizard who can predict the future anyway.