Health & Fitness

Foundation says music can soothe, socialize people with autism

Patricia Kayser, center, during a musical event with several children.
Patricia Kayser, center, during a musical event with several children. Autism and Music Foundation

Activities organized by the Autism and Music Foundation are led to the rhythm of guitars, drums and maracas.

For the past three years, this foundation has provided recreational spaces in South Florida for the enjoyment of children and adults with autism and other disabilities. Autism and Music Foundation events can be described as energetic and involving lots of music. They’re also usually held outdoors so that the children, who attend them, can be in close contact with nature.

“Our mission is to help improve the quality of life of people with autism through their interaction with music,” said Patricia Kayser, founder of Autism & Music, who added that the activities imply a lot more than just recreation.

“Through music we practice exercises involving patience, socialization, of [taking] turns. It’s like a game.”

Despite the fact that music is the main driving force of the foundation’s activities, youths who benefit from the foundation’s work also have access to a space where they can play soccer or golf, or where they can paint. Activities are run in small groups to ensure a personalized environment.

The Autism & Music Foundation was born when Kayser witnessed her brother Christian — who was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old — listen to a song played live and accompanied by the sounds of a guitar.

Kayser, who is from Ecuador, said that as an older sister she always tried to play and communicate with Christian, who is now 15. “It was difficult interacting with him.”

That’s why she was profoundly impacted when she saw the almost immediate connection her brother had with music. Since then, Kayser, 25, has submersed herself in the world of music. She bought a guitar and started learning its chords.

At the same time, she noticed significant changes in he brother’s behavior.

“His senses started waking up, he started coming to my room, he had never pointed and he started pointing at my guitar. He became more social, started looking me in the eyes,” said Kayser.

Kayser volunteered in a school for children with disabilities and noticed that her brother’s reaction upon listening to music was not unique, it was often repeated by other children with his same diagnosis. That’s when she knew she had to do something.

“This is my mission in life,” she said.

Contrary to the generalized notion that children with autism dislike listening to noise, Kaysee said she has never experienced a tantrum reaction, which is an episode in which a person with autism expresses irritability) caused by the music.

However, she did say she experienced an incident with a boy because he didn’t like balloons and that because of that they now seldom decorate activities with balloons. She also mentioned she requires parents of participants to fill out a form detailing their child’s habits and fears.

Similarly, in the event that a participant experiences a tantrum, the Autism & Music team is ready to handle it. “We haven’t had a situation that has been out of control. We understand and try to take the child to another space.”

According to a report published Nov. 13, the United States government estimates that one in every 45 children born in the country has some type of autism. This statistic is one of three calculations by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most rigorous statistics note one in every 68 children as being affected by autism. In 2007, the CDC estimated only one in every 150 children is born affected by the disease.

Autism & Music Foundation events are free but an initial $15 is required to cover costs for a T-shirt every child must wear to events. Beginning in March, activities will be held the Saturday of every month in Wynwood, at 450 NW 27 St. In the near future, Kayser would like to have a space in which the foundation could offer musical therapy.

Interested parties can send inquiries via email to info@autismandmusic.org.

Follow Johanna Alvarez on Twitter: @JAlvarez

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