Music Activities: Schools' Autism Awareness Week

We’re coming to the end of the first ever National School Autism Awareness Week (14-18 March) led by the National Autistic Society. During the week schools have been encouraged to get involved in a wide variety of activities to raise autism awareness and equip a new generation with the knowledge to accept and empathise with autistic people.

There are at least 1 in 100 people in the UK with autism. Autism is a complex developmental disability which affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviours and is a ‘spectrum disorder’ that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.

Music and autism research supports the benefits that music and music therapy has on individuals with autism. The most compelling evidence lies in the areas of social and emotional communication, reduced anxiety, increased speech output and increased interaction with peers.

Autism and music do definitely go together and there are many ways to use music in therapy for children with autism. There is also evidence, though limited, that suggests engagement with the natural environment can be beneficial for children on the autistic spectrum. This reflects the fact that i) there’s strong evidence that outdoor activities can benefit children in general, ii) there’s considerable evidence that outdoor learning is particularly helpful for children with SEN who often face more difficulties with classroom learning and greater barriers to accessing the outdoors. As more science emerges on the benefits of nature for young bodies and brains, and as autism rates climb, outdoor learning environments are starting to get attention from educators, therapists, playground and landscape designers. Easy access to musical instruments in outdoor learning environments may provide an outlet that encourages children to use music to deal with emotional issues, especially when they are unable to express them through speech. Where words fail, music may be a medium through which to explore one's inner world and experiences.

Here a few fun music activities you may wish to try by either wrapping up warm and using your outdoor musical instruments or by taking a box of rhythm instruments outside into the sunshine;

Copy Cat: Choose an outdoor musical instrument and have one child play a rhythm – their partner should then repeat the rhythm – then switch leader.

Play Conductor: One child uses a conductor baton to set the speed and rhythm of the music with their partner following them on the musical instrument.

Musical Charades: Have one student think of an object or animal that makes a sound and then choose an instrument to try and replicate that sound and have the others guess what who/what they are. A drum is particularly good for this activity

Name that Tune: Have one student hum a tune while playing the rhythm on one of the instruments. Their partner must try and name the tune.

The buzz around autism continues with World Autism Awareness Week (2–8 April 2016), the national and global campaign to improve understanding of autism which begins with World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April.

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