Autism is a neurodevelopment disability which is characterized by impairments in social interactions, repetitive and restricted behaviors and communications process. The communication involves both verbal and non-verbal communication and they also have difficulty in expression of emotions. The signs and symptoms of autism typically start within the 2nd year of the child's birth. The symptoms might be slowly developing or a sudden onset can occur. Many parents would neglect the symptoms thinking that the child is not well or is upset and simply not communicating and wait till the symptoms are full-fledged. An early diagnosis can slow down the process of impairments, although it cannot stop it completely and neither is there any definite cure. Read further to know how an early diagnosis with a good intervention including dance movement therapy could benefit the autistic child with cognitive, social, emotional and motor developments at the pace and help them lead a better life.

Dance Movement Therapy for Autism

Signs And Symptoms Of Autism

Noticing the early signs and symptoms of autism and taking the child for the diagnosis can prevent from extreme cognitive impairment. The signs and symptoms of autism include:

  • Low or Lack Of Social Skills And Communication: A child with autism at a moderate level can communicate with people in a clumsy way, or make offensive comments or just behave in a different way than other. Kids with severity in symptoms might be simply uninterested in social communications and withdraw themselves.
  • Touch or Physical Contact: Children with autism do not like to be touched or cuddled. However, it more depends on the practice and some might even love cuddling more than any other children.
  • Sudden Environmental Changes: A person with autism finds it difficult to adjust with sudden environmental changes like a sudden loud noise, strong smell or a sudden increase in light intensity. They find these sudden changes very unpleasant.
  • Echolalia: People with autism often repeat the words or phrases they hear, known as echolalia. Their speech might sound that very formal and devoid of any emotion in them.
  • Repetitive or Recurrent Behaviors: Repeating a same behavior or movement or action again and again is a part of their life. They like routine and predictability. The repetitive behaviors might be a stereotypical action like clapping or hand-flapping or rocking movements, compulsive behavior like arranging objects in line, sameness like denial to move a toy from one place, ritualistic behavior like dressing in the same way, restricted behavior and denial to variation like playing the same game continuously or watching the same TV program, and self-injury like hand-biting or head banging.
  • Showing Empathy: People with autism can rarely understand others feelings and emotions and thus showing empathy is very difficult for them. However, with practice it can be improved and many could successfully display empathy naturally.
  • The cognitive, social, emotional and motor skills in people with autism can develop at different pace and at different times.
  • People with autism can have difficulty in learning.
  • Jerky physical movements or tics might be very common in people with autism.
  • Obsessive thoughts and behaviors can also be present in them.

Interventions For Autism Patients

An early intervention can help the child grow and develop properly and give better outcomes. Depending on the severity of the symptoms the early intervention plan should be made by the psychologist, special educators and creative art therapists. The intervention includes:

  • Education: These days almost everywhere special schools for autistic children are available. With development appropriate education and in a way which is best suited for the child is provided, a child can overcome much of the hurdles in his/her life and have the basic education to support him.
  • Training in Motor Skills: Children with autism can have impairments in motor skills and thus proper training is required in gross and fine motor skills.
  • Creative Arts Therapy: This is a relatively vast area including several therapies in it like art therapies including painting and sculpting, music therapy, drama therapy, dance movement therapy and many more. All of these therapies have effectively delivered significant results in dealing with autistic people.

Dance Movement Therapy For Autism

Dance Therapy has gained its widest recognition for its applicability and implication on people with autism. Dance Movement Therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of dance and movements to enhance communication of emotions and behaviors and also improve motor ability. The dance styles that are included are ballroom dance, waltz, line dancing, jazz, ballet and body psychotherapy. However, the therapy session is devised based on the specific issue dealt with and the population the therapist is dealing with. Dance Movement therapy has been found effective on patients with Autism spectrum Disorder (ASD), Schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, people with chronic pain, Mood and Anxiety disorders etc.

Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy on Autistic People

People with autism could have huge benefits from dance movement therapy. These patients often lose the awareness of their mind and body. Since, Dance Movement Therapy focus on the mind-body approach and thus helps them in re-establishing this mind-body connection and return to harmony.

Many studies and research findings have supported the positive implication of dance therapy of people with autism. A study conducted on 31 young adults with ASD to find out the effect of the therapy on body awareness, sense of well-being, social skills, empathy and self-other distinction found that the participants reported an increased sense of wellbeing, self-other distinction, empathy, social skills and body awareness. Although studies with bigger group of samples and a comparative one with a control group is yet to be conducted. However, verbatim reports from parents, family, friends and teachers have positively reinforced the fact of dance movement therapy having a huge impact on improving many of the autism symptoms.

Techniques Used In A Dance Movement Therapy Session In Autism

A movement therapy session includes a variety of techniques to help the person overcome the disability symptoms. While in some sessions the therapist might leave the patients on their own with the music played on and let the patient react to the stimuli (music) and perform their own movements, while other sessions might be specifically directed to teach them more goal oriented movements. The techniques used are:

  • Simple imitation of the patients movements
  • Mirroring Techniques like the patient is stimulated to copy the movements that the therapist is doing to increase the movement vocabulary in them
  • Touch Therapy: The therapist might stimulate the patients by a simple and soft touch and direct the patient to develop movements that are widely required for daily life activities.
  • Props: Therapist might incorporate usage of props like balls, scarf's, Thera-bands etc to promote wider movements.

Since it's a creative arts therapy, it can incorporate various techniques developed specifically by the therapist so that the patient gets the utmost benefit from the therapy session.

Benefits of Dance Movement Therapy in People with Autism

Dance Movement therapy can help people with autism in varied ways and in all the areas of impairment the person suffers from in autism. The benefits experienced are as follows:

  • It helps in improving attention and concentration and thus helps in furthering education
  • Dance as a way of expression of emotion enables autistic people to express through movements
  • It helps autistic people in forming better relation
  • Due to liking towards repetitive movements, a therapist can repeat a movement pattern which the patient needs to learn and when they start imitating the movement vocabulary develops.
  • This helps them in learning different patterns of movements required for daily life activities
  • Group sessions in dance movement therapy enables in developing social skills and communications of autistic person
  • Doing a choreographed dance movement sequence in a series of sessions in a row helps in improving memory and recapitulation skills.
  • Touch therapy helps in developing trust on others as well as helps in reducing sensitivity to physical contact and touch.
  • Dance movement therapy helps in improving body image of an autistic person.
  • It helps in developing body awareness and improves general well-being
  • Many a times usage of proper movements on the different planes of motion can stimulate verbal communication skills
  • It helps in stopping the repetitive movements as they learn varied movements in the session
  • Since it's a movement therapy, the motor skills develop including the gross and fine motor skills
  • As the social skills develop, it promotes understanding the feeling and emotions of others and thus develop empathy
  • Dance movement therapy helps an autistic person in better adaption to different situations.

The main focus of a dance movement therapy session with autistic people is to promote expression of emotion, breaking the withdrawal symptoms and engaging with others, increasing interpersonal bonding and communication, recognizing, associating and responding to others, increasing eye contact, participate in group activities and promote socialization and increasing shared focus, learning through mirroring, and developing trust.

With the vast range of benefits and the varied focus that a dance movement therapy session includes, it is sure to benefit anyone taking the session. However, the earlier it is started, the improvements are much more and even the impairments would not be so drastic. As for a child with autism, an early diagnosis with a good intervention including dance movement therapy could help the child in developing properly in the cognitive, social, emotional and motor developments at the pace and help them lead a better life.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: April 20, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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