Alternative Spring Break Day 5: Music Therapy and Playground Psychology

This morning we went back to the Rochelle center to mainly observe a music therapy session.  As we crowded into the back of the small room, the young woman picked up her guitar singing “Hello, I’m glad to see you” to each of the individuals in the session.  These individuals were on the moderate to severe spectrum.  One individual would just smile up at the ceiling when she would sing his/her name, another would cover his/her face saying “Don’t scare me!” and another would acknowledge that she was singing his/her name but not want to interact with her.  There were about 5 participants.  During the session, she would do simple activities like “shake your tambourine when I sing the letter that your name starts with…and the letter is __”  Or “let’s shake our tambourines really softly…now really loudly”  While some had to continually have help to reposition the tambourine in their hands, one individual was so excited during a song that he stood up and shook his tambourine up high in the air.

I found it interesting that if any of the individuals touched the guitar while she was playing, the woman would say “I see you” and then put their hand back–affirming but also wanting them to know how to be respectful.

It was also neat to see that a popular song like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams could be used in so many different ways.  In one instance, I’ve seen how that song can bring together a community that I visited in Italy called Perugia, where they made a video with the song that indirectly celebrates their town.  Here at the Rochelle Center, it lifts up these individuals and makes them smile, or tap their feet, or even get up and dance around.

After music therapy, we all split up and went back to our same rooms from the other day.  Walking back in, I felt a lot more comfortable because I knew more from my previous experience.  We sang and played musical instruments and once again the two most engaging songs were “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and the “Hokey Pokey.”  We also sang some Disney songs.  However, after a while, it felt very strange singing these children’s songs to these old adult faces—some of which were probably 60 years old or so.  Though they look this old, their severe disabilities create a mindset of a baby or a toddler.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the beautiful campus of Vanderbilt to the John F. Kennedy Center.  There, we met Dr. Blythe Corbett, who gave us a lecture on her clinical studies of playgrounds and her theater she started.  When we entered the room, it felt like stepping into an important university seminar, with only our group in attendance.  She had handouts of her research, play programs, her card, and stress balls.  In the back, someone was recording the lecture.  

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Outside of the Kennedy Center, they have a small playground with cameras where they note the movement and interactions of children with and without autism, all who have fanny packs that record audio.  They also have a volunteer called a confederate who has a bug in his/her ear to hear instructions given by Dr. Corbett and her research assistants.  Even before this project, Dr. Corbett was interested in the interactions of individuals with autism and their typically developing peers.  Before coming to Vanderbilt, she started a non-profit organization called SENSE theater.  They produce plays with psychology students at the school, children with autism, and typically developing peers from schools in the area.  Throughout her talk on her theater, Dr. Corbett continually stressed the importance of pairing individuals with autism with a fellow peer in a safe environment where no one will bully them. 

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Before dinner, we had a reflection about our service yesterday.  In order to help us all not fall asleep, we played this activity called Bird on a Perch.  We were all paired up with one person being the bird and the other the perch.  During the game all the birdies and perches would look at their feet and wander around the room.  When a leader called out “birdies find your perch” the birdies would run to their perches and jump up on them.  The last couple to do so would be out.  Rebekah and I almost won with our piggy-back perch style.  

During our reflection, we talked about how everyone is disabled in some way–some people (like me) can’t whistle, some can’t form strong relationships, some have trouble expressing their feelings.  We all talked about that as humans, we have a need to categorize and fit everything we come across or think about into a box.  So using the term disabled is our way of fitting these individuals into our worlds.  Looking at some quotes about disability, we came across a good-ole Mr. Rogers one that fit what we were discussing:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately

suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that

many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or

talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive

ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong

relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives,

or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and

bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are

the real disabilities.”

At the end of our reflection, we had to come up with an elevator speech about something we had learned so far and give it to a partner in the elevator.  During my elevator speech, I talked about how I feel like I need a lot of information before I go into anything slightly new.  But sometimes, I really don’t need as much information as I think I do and it’s okay to be uncomfortable at times.

After discussion we all played this hilarious game where you try to make other people laugh/smile by saying (for us, typically in a southern twang) “darling if you love me won’t you please please smile.”  And then we ended the night with an all too real game of Mafia where Emma set the scene of the murders in Nashville, or in our hostel, or in our kitchen in the hostel.

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With the potential of snow looming over us, we went to bed.

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