Autism Case Study
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Case study

A is a boy of ten. He is autistic and attends a special school. At the time of referral, he had no language although he could make very loud vocal sounds and was subject to mood swings. It was because of his distress and inability to communicate in a meaningful way that he was referred for music therapy.

In the first months of his therapy, I worked hard to make a connection with A. He was detached from me, made little eye contact and distracted himself by "twiddling" beaters or spinning the cymbal. If I approached him he would move away and my voice would cause him to put his fingers in his ears. Each session, I would watch his movements and reflect them back to him musically. Gradually I sensed a softening of his approach and one day I sang his name very slowly and sustained the note to the end of my breath. To my delight, he turned to me and looked me straight in the eye. He clapped his hands and ran over to me to clap my hands together. We had made contact.

During the following months we found many ways to communicate without arousing his autistic defences. We would watch each other in the mirror in the room, copying gestures as we both made exaggerated movements to play the drums. He found that he could look at me more easily when it was my reflection and this led to some very playful exchanges.

One day A. went to the mirror and studied his face. He very carefully put his finger on his features in turn and clearly said "eye", "nose", "mouth", "ears", "hair". After so many years without language he looked quite thrilled to be speaking. The mirror then became a practice place for sounds and we often sang together the vowel sounds as he formed his mouth into new shapes and pitched his voice.

Many months on, A's sessions are still evolving and he is creative and astonishing in what he can dare to do. He can dance and throw himself excitedly around to the music, sit calmly, smiling, while I play to him, look straight at me as I sing to him or sit at the piano and pick out patterns of notes with great care and focus.

His family report that A. is really starting to want to communicate. He will point to things now and draw their attention to books and pictures. His mood is much more stable and his vocalising more meaningful. A. will soon be approaching puberty and his new creativity and skills of communication will surely assist him to cope with the changes he will experience.