Reflections and Insights from the Dyspraxia Conference: The Other Side of the Looking Glass

 

Recently I was very fortunate to attend the Dyspraxia 2017 Conference, which was organised by the Dyspraxia Support Group of New Zealand, whose National Office is based in Christchurch (www.dyspraxia.org.nz). This year the theme of the conference was “Moving Forward: Living Positively with Developmental Dyspraxia/DCD”. Julie Wylie was one of the presenters and she led a workshop about “The Positive Power of Musical Play” and also presented a joint workshop with her colleague Alex Gosteva, entitled “The Positive Power of Musical Play and Play Therapy”.

One of the workshops I attended at the conference was called “The Art of Science and Therapeutic Play” presented by Julie Frew, who is very familiar with Julie Wylie’s work and referred to it at various times throughout her presentation. When Julie Frew spoke about the way she uses singing in her work as an Occupational Therapist to connect with, engage and motivate children to do tasks they might otherwise not be motivated to complete, it dawned on me that singing provides the perfect opportunity for children to practise speech in a playful, engaging and non-threatening way. Recently I’ve noticed that my 4 year old’s speech has become easier for other people to understand and this coincides with his newfound love of singing.

When I discussed my observations about my son’s speech clarity with Julie Wylie, who is doing a wonderful job of fostering his love of singing, she reminded me about the movie “The King’s Speech”, which tells the true story of how King George VI overcame a stammer with the help of the unorthodox methods of the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. “One of the treatments used on the King was getting him to sing the words he was having trouble speaking.” (The King’s Speech: the real story, Nigel Farndale – www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8203371/The-Kings-Speech-how-Lionel-Logue-cured-King-George-VIs-stammer.html). Lionel Logue was certainly onto something!

During the conference, several teenagers who have Dyspraxia spoke very articulately about how it has affected different aspects of their life. A quote from one of these teenagers, Alex Iggo, which was shared in a PowerPoint presentation by the Occupational Therapist Emma Ratcliff, who worked with Alex when he was younger, really struck a chord with me. It said, “You’ve only looked one way through the looking glass, but we have looked the other way”. As I reflected on this statement, as well as something Dr Susan Foster-Cohen had said earlier in the conference, along the lines of “Children make change when they are ready to make changes”, I had a glimpse of what it might be like for my 4 year old to know that he needs help with his speech, while at the same time, for very valid reasons, not being motivated, right now, to do the speech therapy homework that could help him.

As parents and professionals, all the things that might help a child to take steps in the right direction may seem obvious, but I believe we must always remember that we are “looking from the other side of the looking glass” as we try to find the best ways to help a child take the risks required to learn and embed new skills. I am so grateful that my son has discovered a joy of singing, because singing is such a powerful mechanism to facilitate language development and self expression.

In the words of Julie Wylie, “Musical play is our first language. It supports speech language development through timing, phrasing and musical form. Musical play takes out the stress of having to concentrate on all the aspects of making the sounds and words. The steady beat of songs, chants and clapping games helps the brain to become attuned to the pulse. This pulse provides moment by moment support. All songs, chants and rhymes have a steady pulse which is driven by rhythmic patterns of words and sounds. The brain really responds and tunes into these rhythmic patterns which keep the brain continually alert and curious about the ever-changing musical information. In language, the presence of pattern is very evident, especially in nursery rhymes and poetry. Consider how every word when divided into its syllabic rhythm, displays its pattern. For example, “I like o-ran-ges, I like to-ma-toes”.

Pulse or steady beat paces, drives and causes an anticipation of pattern. Pattern embellishes, teases, drives and causes the anticipation of the next beat. We can play these rhythmic patterns on our bodies or on a drum, and we can move to the rhythm of words and phrases. Rhythmic pattern is one of the most important elements in the pacing and learning of spoken language. Vocal activities in song, and the production of nonsense sounds and imitation of sounds, help to organise language articulation, breath control and auditory sequencing.” (Reference; Berger, D.S. (2002) Music Therapy, Sensory Integration and the Autistic Child. London. Jessica Kingsley Publications p.116).

To finish, here is a link to an article featuring another of the very articulate teenagers who spoke at the conference, Adam Hodgson. While the article was written a few years ago now, I believe it provides very valuable insights into the life of a person with, in Alex’s own words, “learning differences”, as we consider life “from the other side of the looking glass” http://i.stuff.co.nz/national/education/7818865/National-standards-belittle-people-like-me.

Victoria Boyd

© juliewyliemusic.com, 2017


Testimonials

Great news, I already had some bean bag frogs so I tried out the Bean Bag Frog Song on Monday with great interactive results. So simple and effective. I sang it a-cappella like on the CD breaking it down nice and slow – all the kids and parents were right into it and straight away the kids the kids starting singing along with me. They also decided to make up their own ideas for what the frogs could do. Precious little minds at work…my favourite was balancing your frog on top of your head and now get ready to drop!

Thanks again and I really hope I also get to meet you one day.

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Melanie Maslin, Baby Love Music Fun, Australia
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