We’ve all been moved by music. Hearing your favourite song on the radio can remind you what you were wearing, who you were with and how you were feeling. This emotional effect can be even more powerful for children who have experienced trauma or who are on the Autism Spectrum and find it difficult to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
The healing and emotional power of music and how it helps people in a physical, mental, emotional and social way lies at the heart of MacKillop School Geelong’s Music Therapy Program.
Introduced to the school in Term three of this year, thanks to a Give Where You Live Foundation grant of $29,810, the Music Therapy program has already made a significant impact on the lives of several of the children and young people involved in the program.
Life hasn’t been easy for Stephen*. Introverted and terribly shy, Stephen found it particularly difficult to interact with those around him and almost impossible to make friends. Rarely speaking and highly sensitive to noise and environments that were unpredictable, Stephen coped by refusing to attend his mainstream school, which is how he was introduced to MacKillop's Specialist School in Geelong.
Even at MacKillop, Stephen’s difficulty in communicating meant that he was not yet able to attempt school tasks and he spent long periods of time observing his environment and not participating or interacting with his peers.
As part of his role as Music Tutor, Paul Grant would sit in on classes to get to know the students and identify those who were particularly interested in learning music. It was quite a surprise to everyone when Stephen told Paul that he would like to learn to play the guitar.
I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to make him comfortable with me in a safe, familiar environment. After several lessons in the classroom, Stephen expressed that he would like to try and attend his guitar lessons in the music room. This was a huge breakthrough!
“This young man’s confidence continues to increase as a result of his relationship with music. What makes it even more incredible, is that the new skills he is developing in music therapy are helping him to transition to a classroom workspace that includes his peers.”
At MacKillop School, there’s no such thing as a 'one size fits all’ philosophy and teachers use many approaches to connect with children and encourage them to build on their individual strengths. The Music Therapy program is proving to be a valuable tool in reaching students who have not previously connected through other programs.
“Stephen still has a long way to go, but his playing and understanding of the guitar are improving every lesson and he is a keen and positive student. He is also engaging in classroom tasks and is beginning to demonstrate the cognitive strengths that we knew were hidden behind his barriers,” Paul said.
Thanks to the grant from the Give Where You Live Foundation, many more children and young people at the school will benefit from the Music Therapy program where they will build on their strengths and skills while having fun and enjoying their music.
*Name changed to protect privacy.