How does Autism impact children?
Around one in a hundred children in the UK have autism, a lifelong developmental disability which affects the individual’s social skills, communication abilities and the way that they perceive the world. Children with autism face a series of challenges in society, and many have experienced exclusion from the activities that other children access.
Australian sociologist David Gray claims that more serious forms of autism often involve “extremely disruptive and antisocial behaviour,” a major contributing factor to the misconceptions associated with the disability. With no identifiable or physical characteristics to signify that an individual has a disorder, people often assume that autistic children lack self-discipline or that they have a mental illness. This reaction to behavioural disturbances often restricts the child’s access to the activities enjoyed by others their age.
How can we address this?
Dance/ Movement Therapy (DMT) has been identified as one of the most effective approaches to promote an autistic child’s emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration. Psychology Today has said that DMT is a form of therapy that is gaining attention for its unique capacity to work directly with the ‘core deficits’ of the disorder.
“It is important to note that the intention is to first understand the person with autism, to join with them, and then to help them modify their communication in a way so that repetitive restrictive behaviours can become channelled, the nervous system can settle, and social engagement can begin. This is dance/movement therapy’s starting point”, Christina Deveraux writes for Psychology Today.
Dance/Movement therapists assess body language, non-verbal behaviours and emotional expressions to address the specific needs of the individual. Some interventions of Dance/Movement Therapy include matching and mirroring the individual’s movements to express empathy and validate what the person is feeling. Some therapists also use a ‘movement metaphor’ or a prop to help the person physically and expressively demonstrate a therapeutic challenge or achievement.
Children across the autistic spectrum require different levels of support, but the challenges faced are often shared. Offering Dance/Movement Therapy as a group activity has the potential to address the limitations facing children with autism. As well as improving their motor functions, this form of therapy enables children to strengthen and flourish in their relationships with others.