The prevalence of autism worldwide has doubled in recent years. Based on recent statistics, these misunderstood children have suffered from difficulty in making friends and handling relationships with peers. In my newly published book Aiden’s Waltz, I share the story of my own son and how he overcame the physical, emotional and social challenges related to autism through the art of ballroom dancing.
Experience as a mother of five children coupled with a strong knowledge base in Occupational Therapy provided the foundation for an out of the box approach to raising a child with special needs. From watching boys and girls playing soccer on a school playing field, Aiden rose from the shackles of autism to dance with the grace and elegance of a swan across the ballroom dance floor. Ballroom dancing proved to be the ideal activity for my child. It provided the opportunity to develop social and communication skills as well as more fluid and coordinated movements. Children on the spectrum build a sense of self awareness as well as self esteem. The social interaction coupled with the repetition of dance steps provides a recipe for success for children with autism.
My son, as well as other children, experience difficulty with participating in recreational activities such as organized sports teams or after school clubs where initiating, nurturing and maintaining peer relationships is necessary. Through ballroom dancing, my son’s communication skills developed to where he could initiate a conversation with his dance partner. After continued participation, his communication skills blossomed to where he could approach other dancers and ask them to dance.
Ballroom dancing provides a holistic approach to dealing with the challenges of autism. Inherent in the activity is physical contact. For some children, personal contact is problematic. Ballroom dancing requires the children to partner up and maintain close proximity. Trust is another key component to ballroom dancing. The child learns to let go of their fears and anxieties and trust the movement’s of their partner.
In addition to learning the dance steps, dancing requires the participants to respect physical boundaries, maintain position and posturing and conform to the social rules of the ballroom. The dance can be viewed as a dynamic conversation between partners where eye contact is necessary, external sensory stimuli is processed, gross and fine motor movements are coordinated and a relationship between partners is developed.
Another fascinating component to ballroom dancing is the classical music. New research has noted the role of music in facilitating self-expression, creativity and sociability in children. Classical music appears to reduce stress while increasing the ability to concentrate. Muscle tone relaxes and the heart rate slows which causes the mind to be receptive to learning. A positive outlook or increased self esteem often leads to improvements in the creative thinking process. Amazingly, classical music has an effect on the anatomical functioning of the ear and stimulates brain activity.
In my experience, ballroom dancing helped my son to emerge as a young boy who no longer felt “different” from the other children. The world of ballroom dancing opened the door to a fresh and innovative sport. Aiden beamed with self confidence which he gained from being a leading partner on the dance floor. In time, his coordination improved which helped build his self esteem. While Aiden still is not considered a social butterfly, his beautiful ocean blue eyes look right at you when he speaks. While not considered a traditional extracurricular activity, ballroom dancing provided the necessary tools for my son to emerge from his own darkness and dance before the entire student body. In closing, I learned that given the support and opportunities, all individuals with special needs possess talents as well as the ability to achieve!
To Purchase: Aiden’s Waltz
Victoria Marin graduated from New York University in 1995 with a degree in Occupational Therapy. As an adjunct professor at Rockland Community College, she instructed students in the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. Later in her career, she joined the faculty of Dominican College. Marin was raised by Italian immigrants in Orangeburg, New York and is now living in New Jersey with her five children— her inspiration for writing.
For further information about Aiden’s Waltz, please visit www.aidenswaltz.com.