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 Post subject: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2003 6:03 am 
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Joined: Tue Apr 24, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 191
Location: Iola, Texas
This is a follow up post to somethings I posted at the beginning of the dance year. I was a new beginning ballet teacher last fall and found out that I had an autistic student in my class. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous, but Citibob and my sister-in-law (who is a special ed teacher) put me at ease.

Emily was my original autistic dancer. Loves ballet...not as thrilled about tap and jazz. Tap is a bit loud for her and the intricate movements for shuffle ball change are a bit harder for her. But she is a trooper and works hard. She does have a tendancy to talk a bit to herself in class. The classmates accepted her as she was - once we explained her condition (Yes, they were confused at first). They are actually very protective of her and help keep her on track. She doesn't do everything perfectly (no one does), but she has learned alot this year.

In January, I acquired another "beginner" class. This one had Emily's sister, Eleanor, in the class. She is also autistic. She started dance in the fall because she saw her sister take private lessons during the summer. She's not as into it as Emily, but enjoys the class. She's sweet as a little song bird. (She sings the words to songs with lyrics as she dances.) Incidentally, this is also the same class that my daughter takes. I didn't get to work on as much technique with them...I only had them for 30 minutes of ballet, and most of the spring semester was spent working on recital work. But Eleanore worked hard as well.

Along with adding this other class, I lost my assistant teacher when she became the primary tap/jazz teacher for that class. In the three weeks I was without an assitant, I "lost" Emily to the corner of the room. Her learning capabilities slumped, especially in tap. I requested and got a student assistant. I explained Emily's condition and that I needed her to stay on top of Emily to keep her out of the corner. After the first class, my assistant learned what was needed and stepped up admirably. Emily improved dramatically.

Probably the only sour note was when we had them come in for privates one Friday afternoon. Eleanore did NOT like the fact that her weekley routine was messed up. Also, she did not like the fact that she was the only student in the room. She kept wanting her mirror image to disappear. I suggested that we turn out backs to the mirror, which we did...worked like a charm. Emily was great. She loved the attention. Daily routine changes didn't bother her.

So we had rehearsals and recital last weekend. Lights did not bother them. They did beautifully. Compliments from parents-in-the-know on how wonderful both girls did. (I don't know about the other parents...don't really care, actually.) During rehearsals, Eleanor was supposed to stay seated at the end of her ballet dance and wait for black out. She stood up and bowed to the audience several times. Very cute. For recital, she remembered to stay seated. :-)

Emily did very well with the extra things they were given to do in the two weeks before recital. She is very good about remembering things as long as she has someone to follow. The finalé was a bit much for her, so I comforted her after final bows until her escort came back stage to get her.

This year has been such an experience for me. I have learned so much. I was talking with their mom about the girls returning next year. We are still going to keep them separated into two classes to keep them focused. I will be teaching only one class...yeah! Emily will still be in my beginner class.

I am looking forward to another great year!

<small>[ 20 May 2003, 08:07 AM: Message edited by: ahallmark ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2003 6:40 am 
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Joined: Sun Oct 24, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 19975
Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
My thanks hallmark for getting this down on paper. It sounds as though it was a great experience for all concerned.


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2003 2:02 pm 
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Joined: Tue Sep 05, 2000 11:01 pm
Posts: 3129
Location: Guildford, Surrey, UK
What a wonderful story - and yes it is great that you have got it down on paper so to speak - a lasting memory.


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2003 5:47 pm 
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Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2001 12:01 am
Posts: 1876
Location: New England
Ahallmark... That sounds absolutely wonderful! I'm glad to see that Emily seems to be latching on to the structure of the ballet class.

Please e-mail me. I want to respond to some of the points you mentioned over e-mail.

<small>[ 20 May 2003, 07:48 PM: Message edited by: citibob ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Sat May 24, 2003 1:18 pm 
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Joined: Tue Apr 24, 2001 11:01 pm
Posts: 191
Location: Iola, Texas
I wanted to thank you here on this forum, Citibob, for the comments and encouragement you have given in your emailed comments. The personal point of view that you have shared is very valuable to me as I approach the new dance year this fall. It is true that I can be more than just a dance teacher to her, but also help her in dealing with people on levels other than dance.

For anyone else who finds themselves as a dance teacher of an autistic child, Citibob is a wealth of information. Thank you so much for sharing.


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Sat May 24, 2003 7:24 pm 
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Joined: Sat Oct 23, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 1057
Location: SF CA
Yes thanks Citibob from me too, this is an area that I have not had experience with. Thank you again for sharing with all of us.


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Fri Dec 24, 2004 3:22 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 22, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 17498
Location: SF Bay Area
Quote:
Dance enriches autistic kids

By Tracie White
Special to the Mercury News

Dance class can be a challenge -- particularly if you can't always control your limbs, don't like to be touched and lose it if someone changes your routine in the slightest bit. Who would have thought that autistic kids would really dig boogying to pop music? <a href=http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/10491320.htm target=_blank>more</a>


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Tue Jan 04, 2005 10:09 am 
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Joined: Sun Jul 18, 2004 11:01 pm
Posts: 8
Location: Utah
Thank you for sharing this. We just had a 5 year old girl with autism enroll in class at our studio last fall and I'm not sure how to best help her. She follows the other students very well although she struggles any time we do things with partners (maybe the touching? and does not seem to understand verbal direction very well.
Have you found anything that helps with the verbal cues? (Also, if you know of someplace I can get more info on autism I would appreciate it!)
Her mom wanted her to participate in our Christmas show and she did the dance wonderfully, but being backstage in the dark and unfamiliar place (she missed dress rehearsal) really made her nervous.


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Thu Jan 06, 2005 6:49 pm 
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Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2001 12:01 am
Posts: 1876
Location: New England
In the long run, dancing --- specifically ballet --- is one of the best things for this autistic child. She will probably be challenging to teach. But believe me, the rewards to her of continued ballet study are great. You might find it rewarding as well.

Ballet is good education for the autistic person because it contains all the elements that are so attractive to the autistic: precision, repetition, routine, STRUCTURE. This is not so true for other kinds of dance that are less structured.

Ballet is also something you can be obsessed with. Autistics usually have one obsession or another. The trick is to find an obsession that will serve this child well as an adult. It's easy to see the advantage of spending her energy on ballet rather than on memorizing train tables. So if she becomes obsessed with ballet and is serious about it, then that can be a good thing in a way --- and she has as good a shot at dancing professionally as anyone else.

Over time, ballet training is probably one of the more enjoyable ways for an autistic to achieve a certain level of grace and social skills. "Applied Behavioral Therapy" and "Sensor Integration" are the educational techniques currently in vogue for autism. But ballet training shares many aspects with these techniques, and it is a LOT cheaper. So why not give it a try?

Above all, ballet needs to be a STRUCTURED, SAFE and FUN educational environment where this student can grow. Do NOT let the other kids pick on her for any reason! If you have a good and supportive ballet environment, this should not be a problem.

As for your specific questions:

* Yes, the touching and interaction probably have to do with the struggling in partner activities. Our bodies operate and react in certain ways, and in ballet we learn how to get in touch with that over a period of years. Touching another person's body is a completely different experience, and takes a lot of getting used to. And we only have a few "chances" at it, in contrast to the 24 hours per day we spend with our own bodies.

THAT SAID, she should continue to work on these partner things. Over time she will learn those skills. Just be on the lookout for frustration from her or her partners. Other dancers are an important resource, but they have their limits. If you see things blowing apart socially, it is best for the autistic child to be separated, so she doesn't completely lose face and so the other students don't come to hate her. As the teacher, you can be her partner at times if things aren't working out with the other students.

* Verbal directions: she probably understands verbal directions; however, she may not be engaged when you give them. If she's spaced out when you're talking, it's as if you didn't say it. If you can get a teacher's aide, that will help --- someone responsible only for working with this student, who can communicate with her one-on-one. Sometimes other students can help in that role, but these students are much too young.

* As for the Christmas show: whose idea was it for her to miss the dress rehearsal? Bad, bad, bad... Dress rehearsal is important for everyone, and doubly important for this student, for exactly the reason you point out! You were taking a risk by putting her in with no dress rehearsal: the behavior of an autistic 5-year-old in a dark and unfamiliar place is unpredictable at best. What would you have done if she had started screaming or crying backstage?

I suggest you make a policy that students must attend dress rehearsal if they're going to be in the show --- and that should apply to everyone.

If you contact me, I can point you in some further good directions regarding ballet and autism.

<small>[ 06 January 2005, 07:52 PM: Message edited by: citibob ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Thu Jan 06, 2005 6:55 pm 
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Joined: Sat Oct 23, 1999 11:01 pm
Posts: 1057
Location: SF CA
Once again, thanks so much citibob!


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 Post subject: Re: autistic dancers in recital...
PostPosted: Thu Jan 06, 2005 10:08 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jul 18, 2004 11:01 pm
Posts: 8
Location: Utah
Thank you for such great information Citibob!


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