April 2nd is World Autism Awareness day, and so the next few posts will be dedicated to understanding this disorder. As a teacher of some 20+ years, I’ve witnessed the increase autism first hand, and I’ve tried to keep up with the research and best practices for the classroom.
Autism knows no socio-economic bounds. In fact, in my experience most autistic children come from two-parent homes where both parents are well educated and extremely intelligent. It’s increase has been seen world wide, affecting every facet of our global society. In the United states, one in every 88 children now will be affected by Autism (1 in 54 boys, and 1 in 252 girls).
According to Autism Speaks, new and exciting research has uncovered similarities in the brains of autistic children. The research sites a possibility that the disorder develops during the mothers second trimester of pregnancy. Temporary infant neurons aren’t meant to survive the second and third trimester, yet research has found that autistic children retain these scaffolding neurons when they were supposed to be naturally discarded after they served their purpose. This causes the frontal cortex of the child’s brain to be larger and have more brain cells than the average child. Early detection and aggressive treatment seem to be key in improving the lives of autistic children.
A few notes about autism from a teacher’s perspective: I’ve found that one common bond among autistic children is an abiding love for music. I’m often amazed at the sheer intensity autistic children display when exposed to complicated compositions. It my experience, autistic children are fascinated by sound (even those whose ears are easily overstimulated love music in some way). Music is centered predominantly on the right side of the brain, but rhythm, patterns, and melody perception is located in the front where memories are stored. I would love to see the new research delve into the possibility that the two, being the larger brain tissue and a love of music, are connected.
At any rate, through the years I’ve noted certain videos, music clips, etc. that seems to affect even the most severely autistic child. Not surprising, orchestral music is a favorite, but one thing I’ve found that really exceeds any other is a collection of videos called Animusic. I purchased them several years ago as part of a unit on rhythm. I love the videos because you can literally see every rhythm being played. The reaction from our autistic children has been something short of mind blowing.
Here is one excerpt that they particularly enjoy!