We asked Sarasota Herald Tribune Dance Critic and Arts Writer: Q. Autism is being treated with movement therapy more often than other neurological disorders. Why do you think movement therapy is helpful in treating autism?

In my experience as a dancer and the mother of someone on the spectrum, I believe the strength of movement therapy and/or dance  lies in three areas: the ability to bridge the challenges of spoken language that some individuals with autism experience; the possibilities for creating body and spatial awareness for those who have non-verbal processing difficulties; and, perhaps most importantly, as an avenue to creating social relatedness and interaction.

Movement/dance is the only truly universal language; people communicate regularly and naturally through “body language” whether they are aware of it or not, and regardless of cultural, geographical or neurological differences. For a person who experiences challenges with spoken language, movement/dance can represent a way to be heard and to express the internal.

However, many on the autism spectrum also lack an innate ability to interpret or absorb “non-verbal” communication and are uncomfortable with physical interaction. So movement therapy can represent a gradual and non-threatening way to teach body awareness and to defray the fear involved in the sensation of touching others or being touched.

Finally, movement/dance, is something that allows for individual interpretation and action, but also opens doors to creating social relationships with human to human contact. Movement therapy can allow neurotypicals to enter into the world of the person with autism on a more equal basis and without preconceptions, and to engage in a way that is respectful and meaningful. This in turn, may allow the person with autism to experience a social relationship that might otherwise be impossible.

~Carrie Seidman

Carrie Seidman
Dance Critic and Arts Writer
1741 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236
T: 941-361-4834  F: 941-361-4880  M: 505-238-0392
carrie.seidman@heraldtribune.com
www.heraldtribune.com | twitter.com/carrieseidman

3 responses to “We asked Sarasota Herald Tribune Dance Critic and Arts Writer: Q. Autism is being treated with movement therapy more often than other neurological disorders. Why do you think movement therapy is helpful in treating autism?

  1. Dance and movement create a sense of community that can be very therapeutic for those who feel that they are outsiders. I think in particular that line dances do a good job of this. Things like the Time Warp (which James mentioned above), the Electric Slide, the Cha-Cha Slide, the YMCA, the Chicken Dance, and even the Wobble make for fun times and great bonding activities… which, like Carrie says, create more social relatedness and interaction. And while for me, my elementary school had the occasional dance unit in P.E., it certainly wasn’t every year, and it wasn’t enough to be as effective as it could have been. It would be nice to see a bigger focus on dance and movement in education… and perhaps it could allow better interaction between people who work differently.

    • During the last four years I was a dance and movement instructor for a middle school performing arts program. I was amazed at the positive influence dance class made for students on the spectrum. Not only is the social interaction important but the physiological response that occurs from any release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters released in the brain that elevate mood. I hope to see the trend of educational dance in schools continue to grow. It certainly made a difference in my experience with autistic students.

  2. NOTE: “jimmy5011” is my Web name…my name is James Williams.

    Movement therapy is VERY important for people with autism.

    What also makes it important is that movement and dance can be taught visually and not through words. Growing up, with my auditory processing deficits, I had a hard time getting through P.E. in school. But when dance unit came, I was the temporary star of P.E. I didn’t have to listen to the dance instructor–all I had to do was copy the movements of the other kids who were dancing. I enjoyed P.E. during dance and enjoyed my brief stardom–only to become the klutz when dancing was over.

    In high school, I took dance for P.E. class when I was given the option to–fighting for the right to do so since boys were often discouraged to take dance class. But dance class helped me get through P.E. I couldn’t process the dance instructor, but I could copy the moves. To this day I remember the dance that was taught by our instructor for “The Time Warp,” the famous dance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    I’m heading to a conference this weekend and hope to respond to other posts next week.

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