April 10, 2013

Music Helps Autism

Today I have a guest post for you in honor of Autism Awareness Month! Denie Riggs has written a wonderful book about how music helps autism. This book is a resource for teachers, parents, and anyone who wants to improve the language skills of someone with autism.

In my own life, both of my girls have been in the Early Childhood Music program. And although neither of them have any language delays or special needs, I have seen their language skills sky rocket and I believe it is a result of Early Childhood Music.  We know that music helps language skills, I learned all about that in graduate school. So it stands to reason that music would help autism as well.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and check out the ECM website for more information!
Here is the complete Link to the ECM website:   http://www.earlychildhoodmusic.net
The link to purchase the book and get more information on the book is at:  http://www.musichelpsautism.com.

“Music Helps Autism”

By Denie Riggs

Founding Director, Early Childhood Music®


April is Autism Awareness Month.  At this time last year (2012), I purposely watched news broadcasts as they featured autism therapies of various types.  I may have missed something, but neither I nor my staff heard anyone feature the power of music against autism, yet we have testimonies and music research behind us, proving that music helps autism!  I realized that I needed to share the incredible successes that we have experienced with our non-traditional approach to music.

It’s taken me a year, but we have just released the book, Music Helps Autism, in time for Autism Awareness Month 2013.


Thank you for letting me share a little information with you.


I am a traditionally trained piano teacher who in 1998 began writing a non-traditional approach to piano for preschool children called Early Childhood Music®~ Give Them the Best Start (ECM). This approach to music has been incredibly successful, measured by the successes of our students and of our schools.  Serving under the corporate umbrella of Perfect Praise, Inc., we currently operate an ECM school in Huntsville, Alabama, where we weekly teach hundreds of students, while our preschool curriculum is being taught by licensed curriculum schools internationally. 


The Research


When preschool children actively engage in music, especially at the piano, their brains wire differently, creating enhanced brain function for the rest of their life!  That enhanced brain function enables accelerated academics, and so much more, with both musical and non-musical benefits. 

Our Academic Tracking Record


Music contains incredible power.  The benefits of participation with music are strong, and the younger the children become engaged in it, the better for their development. 


In 2004, we began tracking the academics of our 7- and 8-year-old Early Childhood Music® graduates. 

Since that time, almost every child who begins early and continues to graduate, receives straight A’s in school at the time of their graduation. 
Typically our graduates are in second grade, with most reading at fourth-, fifth- and sometimes sixth-grade levels at the time of their graduation.  

Our graduates are leaders in their schools, sports teams and churches. 
These children are confident performing in front of their peers and on stage. 

Our students take these academic and leadership qualities out of our music classrooms, becoming amazing citizens in every aspect of their lives.


The non-traditional approach of our ECM curriculum that works amazingly with preschoolers … works wonders for children with autism and other special needs.  Many of our ECM graduates with autism have the same incredible characteristics listed above! 


Our Special Needs Department


Working closely with an autism specialist in our city, in February 2009, we expanded our Early Childhood Music® program to include Music4Me, a department designed especially for children with special needs.  We have witnessed incredible success.  Children’s lives are being changed by the power of active participation music with the benefits being both musical and non-musical.  Many Music4Me parents share their testimonies in the Share Their Story! segments in our Music Helps Autism book. 


Language Barriers and Music


The dismaying autism statistic indicates that 40% of children with autism do not speak. 


We have had several children enroll in our Music4Me classes who were non-verbal.  Music’s power was engaged and in most cases, the children quickly began singing along to the songs, and then broke through into language.  Of all of the benefits received by our students, this one is probably the most exciting to me personally. This one ability changes their life forever!    


For example, the very first student who enrolled for our Music4Me classes was non-verbal.  Here is her Share Their Story! testimony from our book. (Her name has been omitted for privacy.)


A 3-year-old girl, diagnosed with autism developmental delay mainly with language, enrolled in our Music4Me program.  She fell in love with our Rhymes and Rhythms CD and wanted to hear it all the time.  Her parents purchased additional CD’s and played them in the car, in the house and everywhere she spent her day.  Within a few weeks, she broke through verbally by singing along with the CD.  Then her language development progressed very quickly.  By the end of the spring (3 months later), her preschool teacher said that she had almost caught up with her peers in her language development”. 


Here’s another Share Their Story! testimony shared by a grandfather, who says ‘he almost wrecked his car’ when his non-verbal grandson started singing “The Goodbye Song” as they headed home after music class! 


“I just wanted to tell you how excited we are that we enrolled our 3-year-old grandson in Early Childhood Music®.  He suffers from Apraxia of Speech.   In fact, when we started the program about six weeks ago, he was not speaking any complete words at all.  Suddenly, we noticed a change.  On the way home from his class, he began to sing—not perfectly, but close enough that I noticed he was singing ‘Goodbye, goodbye; it’s time to sing goodbye.’


He has gotten much better since joining the (music) class. I was so proud of him.  He loves to play around on our piano at home.  He even gets out the sheet music we have and points to the notes.  But most of all, we are so appreciative that he has started to use more and more words.” 


Music has incredible power over our brains, our bodies and our spirits.  Active participation with music is fun, it’s inexpensive and it was created by God to enhance our lives … so it works!


You Can Help

Our book, Music Helps Autism, establishes Four Levels of Musical Participation. I share the scientific music research behind each level and then offer specific practical application for each developmental age from bouncing babies up.   


Although, principally written for caregivers, I have included an Appendix for Teachers.  This chapter shares how to bring our non-traditional approach elements and curriculum into music and piano studios, into autism and language centers, into preschools and day cares, and for use by other interested professionals. 


It would be easy for a professional to offer the first three levels in your home or office environment.  Then, Perfect Praise, Inc. is developing on-line tools to offer Level 4, Piano Therapy, with on-demand internet classes. 


We are seeking individuals who will catch the vision of the power of music to work with us internationally.  With the right approach, music can change the lives of children with autism in your sphere.  Our goal is that every child, no matter where they live, be given the opportunity to be changed by the power of music. 


Changing lives; how wonderful for them … and wonderfully rewarding for you.




About the Author:


Denie Riggs played Jesus Loves the Little Children by ear at the piano at age 3 years.  She has been playing music since then, served as church musician for most of her life and has been teaching piano for nearly 50 years. Riggs has authored several piano instruction materials including the international Early Childhood Music® Give Them the Best Start prenatal and preschool piano curriculum. She has taught students with special needs her entire life in private lessons and in a non-traditional approach since 1998. Denie and her husband Michael administrate their local school in Huntsville AL USA affecting nearly 300 students weekly.  They are available for public speaking about the benefits of music and other related subjects.  They have five children and six grandchildren.


Contact:          msdenie@earlychildhoodmusic.net

FaceBook:       Music.Helps.Autism  and Denie.Riggs

Websites:         MusicHelpsAutism.com and EarlyChildhoodMusic.net

Book:             Available on Amazon.com and will be released in readers late April

April 1, 2013

Stuttering and Fluency

Stuttering and fluency is a subject that I have always been interested in. My grandfather stuttered his whole life, though it never seemed to bother him. In my school system career, I have watched many students struggle with fluency and stuttering. Of course there is a spectrum... some children had more severe problems than others. Regardless, my goal has always been to improve their communication and self confidence in their speech skills.

The Stuttering Foundation of America is my go-to place for all things stuttering. They have many resources for speech therapists, parents, and teachers.  Here are 8 Tips for Teachers, here are 7 Tips for Parents, and here are free brochures on just about any topic regarding stuttering.

I have the book Treating the School-Age Child Who Stutters: A Guide for Clinicians by Carl W. Dell, Jr. and will be reviewing a few concepts in this blog post. The book is very comprehensive and is a great, inexpensive purchase for any clinician working with children who stutter.

The first thing is to determine whether the stuttering a child is producing is normal dysfluencies or true stuttering. Some of the speech behaviors indicating risk are:

  • Facial tremors with tension
  • Speaking very rapidly, almost compulsively
  • Evidence of struggle and tension while speaking
  • Blocks airflow
  • Raises the pitch or volume during dysfluencies
  • Uneven repetitions
  • Many repetitions (5 or more) during a word
  • Accompanying body movements during dysfluencies
  • Other nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, bed wetting, hyperactivity)
In order to determine whether or not the dysfluencies are normal, a wide variety of speaking situations should be observed. Also, we need to determine if the child is fluent in certain speaking situations but not in others (e.g. reading is fluent but conversation is not). What level produces the first sign of dysfluency? Word level? Phrase? Sentence?  This is where we begin.  The child needs the opportunity to be fluent everyday.

The therapy techniques I use everyday with my students include:

  • Pull-Outs - During a stuttering moment, the child pulls out the sounds with continuous voicing in order to smooth out the speech.
  • Easy Onsets - This is almost saying a breathy "h" before each vocal onset. Muscles should be relaxed and breathing should also be gentle.
  • Breathing - Relaxed breathing is very important. And specific patterns of breathing for smooth speech should be utilized.
  • Cancellations - When a stuttering moment occurs, the student goes back and uses fluency shaping techniques to correct the dysfluency.
  • Purposeful Stuttering - I do not use this technique often, but it is in my arsenol of strategies. Having the child stutter on purpose gives them a sense of control over their own speech and, emotionally, that is very important for self confidence.

I have created a Stuttering and Dysfluency therapy pack to use with these specific techniques. The activities are comprehensive and leveled for progression through more complex therapy activities.

The pack also includes homework sheets and activities, an informational letter for parents and teachers, and a letter to go home with the student.

You can pick up my Fluency Frogs Pack right here! If you download, please leave me some feedback.