Autistic man Michael Fry could sing before he could talk and credits music therapy with improving his communication skills.
Michael Fry could sing before he was able to talk.
The 30-year-old non-verbal autistic from Blenheim has used music therapy throughout his life to help with his communication skills.
“Michael likes music, he enjoys music, and so it was a positive thing to do with him,” his mother, Glenys Fry, said.
“He could sing from the time he was about 2, but he couldn’t talk, so a different part of the brain does the singing function and does the talking function.”
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Michael started taking after school music therapy classes when he was 4 years old.
“The music was a vehicle to teach communication and for a long time it wasn’t verbal, and eventually it was,” Glenys said.
“The skills were more things like turn-taking, being observant about what was going on around him and learning to engage with other people.”
Dr Daphne Rickson is an adjunct professor at the New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī and taught Michael when he was a child.
“I got into music therapy when my daughter was born profoundly Deaf, I was really interested in how we could include her in the music of the family and the music of society,” she said.
Rickson has found through her research that music therapy can help people with autism and disabilities to improve their communication skills and wellbeing.
“The easiest way for people to understand is to think about the impact that music has on all our lives,” she said.
“There are very strong physical responses to music, it’s very hard for us not to tap our toes or move around when we hear music. There are lots of ways that we know music in our everyday lives affects us.”
Rickson published a text earlier this year, Music therapy with autistic children in New Zealand: Haumanu ā-puoro mā ngā tamariki takiwātanga i Aotearoa, to help people understand the benefits of the practice.
“They could see how music therapy supported the children to regulate their emotions, communicate, relate to people,” she said.
Naomi King, a 10-year-old from Christchurch who has autism and anxiety, will represent New Zealand in the Cheerleading World Championships in Florida next year.
“In a nutshell they said music therapy created autism-friendly environments where the children could thrive,” she said.
Rickson said she wants to see more funding available for music therapists to work with children with disabilities and autism.
The national implementation of an Enabling Good Lives (EGL) approach to delivering disability support services is a responsibility of Whaikaha, Minister for Disablity Issues Poto Williams said.
“The EGL approach will fundamentally change disability support services for disabled people, their families, whānau and communities, driving better life outcomes for disabled people at both the local and national level,” she said.
“Music therapy can be supported by individuals using their personal budget in the regions where Enabling Good Lives prototypes are under way if that is prioritised by the person.”
Glenys said Michael knows the theme songs to hundreds of movies.
“When we go to Nelson to see his grandmother he has a pile of CDs that he takes,” she said.
“He’s in charge of the music, and he puts it in and sings to it.”
Music Therapy Awareness Week runs from November 14 to November 20.