Finding your Place in the Performing Arts

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Some kids are naturals, born for the stage. You’ve seen them before. Little or no training and singing and dancing like pros. For some, performing does not come that easy, if they can do it all. I know a student that struggled to find his place not only in the music room, but in any room. His story can be an inspiration to us all.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I met Matthew 4 years ago when he was a 2nd grade student. Frequently during music class, he would hide behind the other kids, in the back of classroom, often too self-conscious to participate in the lesson. He once ran out of the room crying because he thought the other kids were looking at him and saying he wasn’t doing things right. When it was time to play recorder in 3rd grade, Matthew drew on his papers instead of playing. Even when I encouraged him to stay after class to play when no one else was watching, he declined saying he couldn’t do it. During 4th grade, which was a very difficult year for Matthew, he was diagnosed with Autism. This explained a lot of his behaviors, but did not solve them. Through a carefully thought out plan for behavior and academics, Matthew slowly began to show improvements. Although his work was steadily improving, Matthew struggled to find his place among his peers. Because of his frequent outbursts, name calling, and accusations of wrongdoing that are part of his disability, Matthew struggled to be recognized as a friend by his classmates.
This year, Matthew is in 5th grade. At the start of the year, he signed up for chorus. While I knew Matthew to be a good singer, I wondered how he would handle the large number of students in the group (62) in our small music room. More than half of the students he didn’t know at all because they were in 6th grade. Not only did he sit in the front row for every rehearsal, he seemed to thrive as we sang together. He was finding a place. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In January, our school was mounting our first ever musical production. While Matthew didn’t audition, he was very interested in coming to see the show, Schoolhouse Rock LIVE! Jr. in February. While eating lunch one day, I mentioned to my fellow specialists that I needed some planet artwork for the song ‘Interplanet Janet’. The art teacher said she knew just who I should ask…Matthew! As often happens to children on the autism spectrum, they find one specific thing and focus on it. Matthew had an fascination with all things related to the solar system, and he was GREAT at drawing the planets! I bought some poster board and went to ask Matthew for a favor. When I told him I needed him to draw the planets so we could use them in our show, he started shaking and crying he was so excited. I then took him to the art teacher, who gave him some of her “special” markers and pencils to use for the project. She let him keep them when he was done. For the next few days, Matthew kept showing up at my door to deliver the most recently completed planet and to get the next poster board. He was beaming every time I saw him!

We performed our musical two nights for the public and in two assemblies for the students of our school. When Matthew attended his assembly, we were anxious to see his reaction to his planets. When we got to ‘Interplanet Janet’ and his planets were up for all to see, he could not contain his excitement. He was crying, smiling, shaking, and saying, ‘This is best day of my whole life. Everyone can see my planets. This is my dream come true’. Needless to say, we were all crying too.

The planets were then displayed in the hallway and when I recently took them down, I gave them to Matthew. I’m sure they are now hanging in his room as a reminder that he was ‘part of the show’. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Jane Boyle is a 22 year veteran music educator who has taught in New York, Hawai’i, California, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Countless students have passed through her classrooms of the years and have experienced her complete dedication to their musical growth. She resides in Western Pennsylvania with her husband, Dr. Mark A. Boyle, and their two boys, Nathan (a trombonist) and Patrick (a singer). Oh…there’s also two cats, Orpheus and Mimi, and a dog, Skylar. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Matthew, thrilled to be surrounded by his awesome artwork!
Matthew, thrilled to be surrounded by his awesome artwork!


Impact: Music and the Differently Abled


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Over the past month we have touched on music’s role in enhancing the learning experience, its power to transform lives, and how it benefits social and cognitive development. Today, Dr. Boyle touches on music’s impact on children who are differently abled. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]I’m not above getting personal. I have mild dyslexia, which made reading difficult as I grew up. Actually, it still does. But the most difficult challenge to my learning was ADD. Despite dealing with it in one way or another while growing up, I wasn’t officially diagnosed until working on my doctorate. The coping mechanisms I had developed when I was young just weren’t cutting it with the higher level of work. Admitting to myself that there was a challenge was…well…a challenge! Once I asked for help, the support system at Rutgers University was tremendous. I can tell you this: music – just listening to music while studying – helped me tremendously. You’d think I would have realized that as it’s my field! But music’s impact on learning challenges goes beyond the benefits gleaned by simply listening.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Learning Challenges
Dr. Oliver Sacks

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Dr. Oliver Sacks, the late author and neurologist, once said, “Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music.” In his book, Musicophillia, he relates the power of music in reducing tics in patients with Tourette Syndrome and reaching those with autism. Last year, we featured this video – the powerful story of music’s impact on students in need of specialized instruction in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][vc_column_text]My wife, Jane (an elementary music specialist), sees the impact regularly. Jane had a nonverbal student on the Autism Spectrum in her class. After repeated exposure to the class’s “Hello” song (those ever popular transition rituals), she began to take part, singing along with the tune. In the moment, Jane locked eyes with the student’s learning support aid and mouthed the question, “Is she singing along?!”

Stunned, the aide mouthed back, “Yes!”

It was an emotional moment. I recall Jane coming home that day and sharing the story with me. I wept. So did Jane. Seeing that child make a connection, coming out of her shell, was a career highlight she carries with her still.

This child was seven. Research indicates that early contact with regular music making can tremendously impact the learning and social processes of children with developmental challenges.

Impact. I keep using that word. I’ve resisted reaching for my thesaurus – the word is simply too perfect. Music is a force, and that force is unstoppable in its power to change, improve, connect, and enhance the lives of all it touches. That, friends, is a true impact.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

After school curriculum for children with special needs

Special NeedsWith a large number of dual-income families, the school day often extends to after school programs. However, for children with special needs, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, the options for a quality after school program curriculum are limited. As published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, Michelle Haney, PhD, highlighted the growing need for after school curriculum inclusive of children with special needs.
Haney surveyed parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder between the ages of four and 11 in Georgia. She uncovered not only an educational need for quality after school special education curriculum but also a high interest level of parents for enrolling their child with autism in an inclusive after school program curriculum.

Special education after school curriculum needs assessment

  • In the survey, 59 percent of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder participate or have participated in an after-school program at a public school or preschool or through a private caregiver or community organization.
  • Only 33 percent of parents indicated that this was a positive experience for their child. Parents noted that limited expertise of after school caregivers in the behavioral and social needs of children with autism, too much stimulation, and crowded settings contributed to the poor experiences.
  • Parents noted that their child needs support services and opportunities to improve speech-language skills (89 percent), motor skills (74 percent), and sensory integration (82 percent).
  • 69 percent of all parents were interested in attending an after school program at their child’s public school, especially if the teachers were trained, activities were structured and developmentally appropriate, and included predictable routines

After school curriculum uses music to teach young children with special needs


In observing the effect of music on so many children with so many unique learning profiles, it is clear that music truly is universal. The research is catching up with what teachers have known for ages: music’s impact on cognition and skills development is indisputable.

Created by Kindermusik International, ABC Music & Me uses music and movement in structured, developmentally appropriate ways to teach children of all abilities early literacy and language, self-regulation, listening, and social skills. ABC Music & Me can be used as an after school curriculum to help children also practice turn taking, fine and gross motor skills, and following directions. Plus, students with special needs, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, who participate in ABC Music & Me as a special education curriculum show gains in literacy and language skills.
A supplemental strategies guide, Meeting Special Needs, organized unit-by-unit and lesson-by-lesson, suggests activity adaptations for children with particular needs or impairments. Plus, ABC Music & Me includes materials for families to use together at home to connect the classroom learning with the home environment and increase parent involvement in early childhood education.

To learn more about using ABC Music & Me as part of an after school program for children, including children with special needs, download our Special Needs Flyer or email us at