Connecting through Dance

Every week I get the opportunity to support a 7 year old girl who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She teaches me so much and it is always a joy to be with her. Not only am I utilizing DIR-Floortime Therapy, but I am also incorporating Dance/Movement Therapy in our sessions. She enjoys bouncing on her large ball to classical music and has a love for gross movement (running, jumping, climbing) but has difficulty moving to the rhythm and being more in her body. Since I have been with her for a couple of months now, we have a routine of what our session looks like. It varies every time of course, but she does like structure and routine and does better when we do some things that are the same and than also add in variation to help her to become more flexible and expand her experience.

Now when I come over, after we make a plan, either I will ask her if she wants to dance or she’ll go to my bag of tricks and take the drum out herself or my scarves and say in her limited speech, ” I play drum.” Her language and her ability to relate to others has improved so much.

We are constantly working with her to support her in expressing her emotions and feel more comfortable with the difficult feelings (is: sad and mad). The games that we “play” incorporate Zones of Regulation to further develop her awareness of feelings. We want to help her identify where they are in her body and to help alleviate the ick she has associated with feelings and support her to see that all feelings are important and we all experience them in different ways.

The games we play that now incorporate my Dance Therapy props all stemmed from her interests and previous games she has played with her other therapists.

One game we often play that utilizes Movement, feelings, and music, doesn’t have a name but we use this great number rug that they have. It is somewhat similar to the game we all know as Twister. Basically, one person sits on the couch (also sometimes with my Native American drum) and chooses either a number or a color that is on the rug and the other person has to jump to that space and then sometimes, pick up the color scarf that is on top of that, usually matching the color. I also have been including zones of regulation into our games, especially this one. When she picks up the scarves or when she drops them for me to pick them up, I embody the emotion that that color represents in the zones (ie: Blue: Sad, Red: Angry/frustrated, Green: Happy/Content, Yellow: Scared/Anxious, Purple: Excited).

I demonstrate each emotion using my facial expressions and my body language and either lower my whole body and curve my shoulders inward and change my face to sad by lowering my mouth and eyes, and move slower and then I say, “Oh blue, Sad.” Or if it is a green scarf, I move my shoulders back, stand taller, smile with my mouth and eyes and use a brighter tone to say, “Green-Happy!” The goal is to support her in becoming more in tune with her emotions and what better way to teach that but through movement and sound all under the umbrella of play.

In addition, during the moments that are difficult that sometimes occur in our sessions, we model and guide her then too on how to express herself in a clear and kind way. Through the different activities we do, I am always looking at things from a movement perspective as well as seeing the therapeutic play elements as well.

I am so grateful to be doing what I do and supporting children in learning how to better express themselves! Thanks for reading and feel free to comment with any questions or thoughts you might have!

Love and light,

Rachael Anne Singer

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