According to American Dance Therapy association (ADTA), Dance/Movement therapy (DMT) is defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual. DMT focuses on movement behavior as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship. With body movement as the core component of dance, it provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for DMT at the same time. DMT is useful and effective for individuals with developmental, medical, social, physical and psychological impairments.
A dance/movement therapy has an extensive range of techniques to meet the needs and abilities of special needs children. DMT has included from subtle and ordinary movement behaviors to expressive, improvisational dancing. DMT is a flexible form of therapy based on the idea that motion and emotion are interconnected. Through the creative expression of dance therapy, communication skills and dynamic relationships can be improved.
How does dance help with special needs children?
- Enhances body awareness
Children with sensory processing disorder or other similar difficulties often don’t understand parts of their body and how they function. For instance, children with these difficulties might look clumsy and stumble around. Through dance and movement, children with special needs can be more aware of their body parts when they move their body.
- Improve fine and gross motor skills
When children dance, they need to be aware of the space around them, align their bodies or to follow particular movement patterns which involve gross and fine motor control. Children with special needs are practicing these skills when they are taught to dance.
- Promoting social interaction
By having large group dances or partner dances, children with special needs will have to place trust in their peers. They might be required to give some eye contact or appropriately touch a peer where some children with special needs often face difficulties doing these.
- Dance is not just a physical activity, but also it is a form of creative expression.
Children with special needs often have a hard time in expressing themselves or understanding emotions, hence by dancing it gives children a chance to break out of their shells and express themselves in an interesting, calming and relaxing way.
Autism Movement therapy
Specially for individuals with autism, Joanne Lara who is the founder of Autism Movement Therapy combined dance and movement to come out with a strategy for cognitive redirection. As autistic individuals have troubles accessing or retrieving information, this sensory integration strategy connects both the left and right hemispheres of the brain by combining patterning, visual movement calculation, audile receptive processing, rhythm and sequencing into a “whole brain” cognitive thinking approach. Autism Movement Therapy aims to improve an individual to be more compliant when asked to complete on-task activities and to interact with typical general education peers more frequently after 12 to 14 weeks of one to two of sessions a week. It aims to improve behavioral, emotional, academic, social and speech, and language skills as well. This program is available through live classes or instructional DVD.
Special needs children have the common symptoms of poor attention, difficulty interacting with peers, limited body awareness. Activities for special needs children like expression through dance or participating in group movement can help to improve these difficulties and put them on the level of their neurotypical peers.