It turns out that music therapy can be used with children with autism. Every day at the Autism Outreach Center, Shilah Gonzalez and four other therapists teach children how to build friendships and initiate conversations through activities such as cooking, drama, music, recreation, and fine motor skills.
“You can celebrate the smallest little achievement,” said Gonzalez. “A lot of these kids say they’re being bullied at school, and now they’re around children who are the same as they are. At school it might be really difficult, but when they come here, it’s easy… The best part of working with children who have autism is seeing their confidence build up every day.”
The center was started by MARC in April 2012, and serves children afflicted with all ranges of autism, from mild Aspergers to those who are completely nonverbal. Each child’s treatment plan is individualized, and can include anywhere from one to 20 hours per week at the center.
The music therapy program began in January with the arrival of music therapist Kayla Minchew.
“A lot of our kids are nonverbal or have difficulty expressing themselves, so we use music to bring about that communication,” said Minchew. “The hardest part of working with autistic children is the difficulty with communication. Not being able to talk to them — they can’t always tell you what they need.”
Gonzalez said that not all autistic children will be able to develop verbal communication skills. To alleviate this, they try to teach them alternate ways to communicate, such as holding up pictures so that they can show what they want.