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Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

In this, the first of a series of dance/movement therapy lectures produced for the public by the American Dance Therapy Association, Dr. Christina Devereaux explains the unique capacity of dance/movement therapy to work directly with the core deficits of autism.

It is important to note that there are many sources on the internet and on Youtube that casually use the term “dance therapy” or “movement therapy” for their dance classes. There is a difference between a dance class that produces “therapeutic” benefits and the mental health profession of “dance/movement therapy.” Dr. Devereaux is a board certified dance/movement therapist and an expert in this field (check out her bio on the YouTube video page!)

An excerpt from her talk:

“There is a true reality here. The lack of social reciprocity from children with autism as well as their behavioral disturbances and language deficits, tends to make this disorder difficult and stressful for parents in a manner that is different from other developmental disorders. Parents rely as much on the child’s communication signals as the child relies on the parent’s signals. So, the loss of this engagement and intentional, interaction can feel devastating. Unfortunately, there is no treatment right now that can address the “biology” of autism, but dance/movement therapy can certainly directly address this deep “human effect” of autism. By helping parents experience how to attune, join, connect, and understand their child through the use of nonverbal language, Dance/movement therapy can support parents in forming warm, empathic and satisfying relationships with their children.”

April is Autism Awareness Month. If you know someone who would benefit from this information, please share. Relationships matter. Dance/movement therapy can help.

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This week (July 23-28) DanceAdvantage.net invites the world to participate in a social media based campaign united on the importance of dance: “Why Dance Matters.”

My dance/movement therapy colleague, Donna Newman Bluestein, has done this exquisitely well in her blog, Musings of a Dance/Movement Therapist. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read her post. You can bet I will be quoting her words for a long time.

I, however, am finding it harder to describe the power of dance as she has, so summarily and eloquently. My response seems to be emerging in vivid memories – moments that have stood the test of time over the decades and remain in my consciousness, reminding me of the power of dance to enliven, to connect, to pierce isolation. To express – joy, grief and everything in between. To not only encode memory but also evoke it.

If only I could provide a YouTube link to these unforgettable moments etched in my bodymind. Alas, I will attempt to rely on clumsy and inefficient words to describe what dance does so effortlessly. (Ah yes, how could I forget that one: dance communicates. Dance communicates what even the most skilled wordsmiths can only silhouette.)

And so, I offer these mere silhouettes and hope they do some justice in verbally conveying what was first experienced, so perfectly, nonverbally.

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

As I reflect on these words, one of the first images that floods my mind is that of me dancing the Two Step with my grandfather and the Schottische with my grandmother at rural community dances when I was a young child. My grandfather passed decades ago and my grandmother is now an amazing and vibrant 90. Those moments of physical touch, of loving gazes from twinkling eyes, of our laughing and moving together will always remain in my heart and bring joy and comfort to me all my life. To have danced with my grandparents…

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

Every week I enter a room at some psychiatric hospital, prepared to lead a dance/movement therapy group with inpatients who are in crisis. As I enter, I witness withdrawal, disconnection, paralytic depression, isolative preoccupation. Often those with thought disorders are talking to themselves or imagining some delusional yet terrifyingly real threat to their personhood. Attempts at facilitating a group discussion are. . . well, mere attempts. Focus, interaction, listening, organized verbal expression: all these things are nearly impossible to facilitate amongst such a diverse group of individuals challenged with such severe psychiatric symptoms.

But the dance…

The music plays and an ever-surprising, inspiring and magical dance emerges that I feel blessed to witness and partake in every time. I never know how one patient will respond or who will be inspired by whose movement to express themselves in what way. But they do: Respond. Interact. Dance. Sometimes alone, almost always, eventually, with each other as one group. Maybe the group cohesion is only for a few moments but those moments are gold. The voices quiet (or at least are ignored for a bit), the isolation melts, joy – that ever elusive joy – is felt, embodied and expressed. Or perhaps there is sadness and despair or anger – but these feelings are permitted, embodied, symbolized, expressed. People are accepted for who they are and embraced. Nonverbally the dance says We are all welcome here and we have something to say and we shall say it with our bodies.
Every time. It is both commonplace and miraculous.

Every.
Time.

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

Elsie. *

Eighty-something, she lived alone in an apartment in an enriched housing apartment complex. I did a portion of my dance/movement therapy internship there after grad school. Elsie would never leave her apartment for activities. In fact, she wouldn’t even leave for meals, often insisting the meals be brought to her apartment where she dined alone. But all I had to do was knock on the door and say “Elsie, there is a dance downstairs. Would you like to dance?” Her eyes would come alive with a fire and a joyous anticipation.

Well, let me just change my shoes…

She was the belle of the ball every time, even if our “ball” was only a circle of folding chairs in the tv room in the middle of the afternoon. She was there to dance.

And did she dance.

~~ Why Dance Matters ~~

There are so many other stories. . . patients frozen physically with severe Parkinson’s disease coming alive with dance like the Wizard of Oz’ Tin Man with his precious oil. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease – withdrawn, unable or uninspired to speak or connect– sharing stories with the group as their spontaneous dance movements evoke memories long since forgotten.

Every day I dance with someone there is a new story.

I cannot imagine my life without dance. I only began dance studio training when I was 16 but I’ve been a dancer in my heart since I was old enough to walk. I am not the most technically trained dancer but I am no less a dancer.

We are ALL dancers.

Donna, so brilliantly, writes in the above-mentioned post that

“While it is true that not every one feels comfortable dancing, it is only because of limiting cultural beliefs. If we taught otherwise, it would be otherwise.”

We ARE all dancers.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I have never known as much joy and aliveness as I have when I am dancing – on the musical stage, in the club, in my living room, in a Zumba class, with a lindy hop partner. I have never been so in the present moment as when I am in my dance. And now, as a dance/movement therapist I get to witness and experience the meaningful and, yes, at times life-changing impact of dance on my clients.

Dance is inherently healing – it always has been.

Why does dance matter?

Because it DOES.

We move in the womb. Our hearts beat a pulse. We respond to rhythm as babies with joyous movement even before we can walk. We only stop completely moving in this world when our lungs no longer inflate and our hearts stop beating.

To be alive is to move.

To dance is to be alive.

That is why dance matters.


(You can share your own reflections on Why Dance Matters on Twitter. Just use the hashtag #whydancematters. Also check out the Why Dance Matters Facebook page or the Why Dance Matters website for more ideas on how to get involved in this important campaign.)

* Name has been changed.

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Kudos to both TimesUnion.com for publishing a story on the power of dance/movement therapy with autism and to Paul Grondahl for writing it.

"Dance movement therapist Rachelle Smith-Stallman works on developing trust with 4 year old Emil Bouget as he touches her eye, during a session at his home in Albany, on Tues, Oct 19, 2010. Bouget is autistic," according to Paul Grondahl in the October 23, 2010 timesunion.com. (Philip Kamrass/Times Union)

Parents of children diagnosed with autism are eager, desperate even, for interventions and therapeutic modalities that will help them connect with their child. Dance/movement therapy, over time, has helped many.

Grondahl’s article describes the impact of dance/movement therapy on a child with autism. I recommend reading it, but must do so with one caveat. I must differ with the reference made by Janine Cruiswijk to art and movement therapies as being “new” and “slowly becoming more accepted and mainstream.” Dance/movement therapy is hardly new; rather, dance/movement therapists have been pioneers of the mind-body interface for over five decades and have been acknowledged by federal and state agencies for almost as long, in research, funding, and licensure. The process that remains “slow,” tragically, is the public’s AWARENESS of our profession as a whole and the UNDERSTANDING of this psychotherapeutic modality that makes the body and its power to nonverbally communicate central to healing and deepening relationship. The tragic result of this lack of awareness is that reimbursement from insurance companies is not yet available in all places.

But every story helps spread awareness. With awareness comes the potential for understanding and, eventually, broader accessibility for those interested in DMT services but unable to pay for them out of pocket.

To her credit, Cruiswijk, the executive director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region, does note that dance/movement therapists are “highly trained therapists.” Indeed, dance/movement therapists are required to have a Master’s degree and thousands of hours of supervised clinical intern hours before being able to practice privately. (To read more on dance/movement therapy education and training, click here.)

Though I, personally, have never worked with children with autism, I know of many colleagues who do and the stories of connection and relationship will amaze you.

Here is one. Enjoy.

“Autistic Boy Makes Joyful Moves”

(As you watch the video footage, you’ll note instances of “mirroring,” a dance/movement therapy technique that helps communicate empathy and build therapeutic rapport. Mirroring and nonverbally reflecting the essence of another’s movement is both subtle and complex, never as straightforward as simply “doing what the other is doing.” But in this footage you can see a few examples of the dance/movement therapist building the nonverbal relationship in this manner. Additional still photos can be seen here.)

More on dance/movement therapy with autism, including research articles and books, can be read in this DMT-with-Autism-Informational-Sheet published by the ADTA.

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How is dance/movement therapy connected to the field of counseling?

Who can benefit from dance/movement therapy? Do you have to be a dancer to work with a dance/movement therapist?

How do dance/movement therapists connect with children with autism?

What sort of training does a dance/movement therapist have? What’s the difference between a registered dance/movement therapist (R-DMT) and a board certified dance/movement therapist (BC-DMT?)

Find out the answers from the ever articulate Christina Devereaux, MA, BC-DMT, NCC, spokesperson for the American Dance Therapy Association. Recently interviewed by Kristé Bouvier on the Designer Health Net Talk Show, Christina provides insight into these questions and more in a six minute segment of a 60 minute show dedicated to dance in general.

There are two ways to listen:
Click on this for a direct link to listen to the MP3.

OR

Go to the Designer Health Net Talk Show site itself and listen to the past episode on “dance.”

Christina Devereaux’ interview starts at approximately 16 minutes into the program and ends at about 22 minutes in.

Should her answers inspire your own questions, feel free to respond to my blog and ask them here. I’m happy to provide whatever information I can or point you in the direction you need to go to find your answers.

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How does dance/movement therapy benefit those living with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease or Autism? What does the research say about the application of dance/movement therapy with trauma or eating disorders? How is dance/movement therapy used with children? The elderly?

These are great questions, readily addressed in two-page flyers created by the Public Relations Committee of the American Dance Therapy Association. There are great photos of dance/movement therapists in action on each sheet, in addition to a summary of the work in that context, along with a short bibliographies documenting current related research. Donna Newman Bluestein, Public Relations Chairperson for the ADTA, has provided easy to follow links to each of these compelling information sheets. Curious? Check them out at her blog: Musings of a Dance/Movement Therapist.

Feel free to read and/or print and share with loved ones or colleagues. Previously these were only available to members of the ADTA as inservice materials but are now accessible for all who are interested in learning more about the work. Pass them on!

(And if you are interested in the use of dance/movement therapy with other populations or diagnoses, just ask. More flyers are in the works and I can always point you in the direction of books and journal articles pertaining to your area of interest.)

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