The autistic mind is an area of human understanding that is being developed (and understood) as never before. Companies like Youtube and Google are deliberately employing autistic people precisely to tap into the extraordinary, creative and unique perspectives a person with autism gives.
But growing up with autism can seem like a sometimes impossible struggle. Alongside the inner struggles of the autistic child themselves – desperately wanting to communicate with and understand the outside world but so often coming up against such barriers of anxiety and exclusion – immense strains can be put on family life, on siblings, on parents and carers.
Finding just the right educational opportunities are pivotal in providing the opportunities that can ensure future happiness and success for the person growing up with autism.
Here at the Pro Corda music school, we believe that music theatre lies at the heart of these opportunities. For 14 years we’ve been running the Create Together programme which serves and gives life-changing opportunities to children and young adults with autism across the country.
Musical Theatre provides an extraordinary world of creative opportunity. It allows the autistic child to escape into a fantasy world, one they can truly relate to, but then come back with new ideas and focus, a new sense of communication, and above all a great pride in their creative achievements.
Six Ways To Use Musical Theatre In The Educational And Developmental Mix For An Autistic Child
Here are our top tips for making a life-changing difference for an autistic child through musical theatre.
1. Allow the autistic child to be immersed in classic musical theatre storylines
From the Disney classics such as Lion King through to the Dickensian magic of Oliver, these are storylines and characters that these children fall in love with immediately. Allow them to inhabit the world. Don’t just download the film… we’d recommend getting a songbook and lyrics for a show they’ve shown excitement for as well. Talk to them about the story, the characters, and allow their imaginations to run wild. If they want to develop the story with their own creative avenues of though – either verbally, writing down their own script add-ons, or even drawings/painting – then this is great too.
2. Take a child with autism to a live show
This beats the cinema any day and most theatres will do discounted deals for young people with additional educational needs or a healthcare statement. Make sure you talk to them about the story and characters in detail before you go. Try to find out in advance if there will be any surprises that might unsettle them (sudden loud bangs or a cast change.) Use the interval to keep the conversation going about characters and storylines – once they’re in the world they’re in the world!
3. Allow them to express their creative ideas about a musical theatre show through instrumental improvisation
This can be singing or if you have a musical instrument to hand then on any instrument. Here at Pro Corda, we use piano and string instrument improvisation – together with workshop instruments such as drums and world music percussion – to develop short improvised compositions about music theatre characters. It’s an incredible way to develop cross curricula areas too, it channels their imaginations and develops new skills for life. See procorda.com for more tips on how to do an improvisation session with an autistic child.
The rhyming lyrics of music theatre – alongside the recognisable and loveable show characters – are pivotal and also help develop so many different educational areas (like the improvisation.) See procorda.com for more tips on how to “rehearse” lyrics with an autistic child and techniques to use to retain their excitement and work within concentration spans.
5. Get together with others
A really central aspect of all of this is communication and confidence. It’s therefore vital that an autistic child’s new excitement for musical theatre isn’t a solo experience. Share the educational techniques we’re using here with others- siblings, other children with autism (or without.) Get a duet going (whether sung along to a film or accompanied live)… eg Hakuna Matata from Lion King or Consider Yourself from Oliver. So that not only are they inhabiting THEIR character, but they are really respecting and understanding someone else’s character as well – in a live and immediate context.
6. Take to the Stage!
This is the really exciting bit. When all of these skills come to life and a child with autism can be on stage with other young people performing a high-quality musical theatre show for themselves. Pro Corda’s ‘Create Together’ programme culminates in a fully staged production – find out more about the course here. For the latest information on booking the perfect musical theatre course for your child with autism, you can also follow Pro Corda on Facebook and Twitter.
More About Pro Corda
Pro Corda offers a range of courses for students with additional needs and disabilities. To find out more about its schools programme or to book an individual place on one of their weekend courses, get in touch with the Pro Corda team here or email [email protected].