Since forming Uniquely Me and U, I have experienced the progress members are making as they develop at their own pace in a small, friendly environment. I would like to share that positive progress by giving some illustrations. Names have been changed to protect their identity.
Alice who joined us almost two years ago in our art group. At the start she was very quiet and not able to hold a pencil or paintbrush steady. Alice would sit by her mother, who supports her, and not interact with anyone else. It took time for her to feel settled within the group. Being autistic and in a different environment with strangers, which is an issue with autism. Everything had to be at her pace/acceptance. Gradually, over time, she has learnt to explore a variety of art methods, to find out what she likes doing. Her interest is animals/dinosaurs.
Her hand/eye coordination has improved greatly, and Alice now completes some very detailed art. As we can see on our website. She has grown in confidence and social skills. Now Alice will talk and interact with other members. Another important point of progress, is she doesn’t rely on her mother so much now within the group.
Joseph who is also in our group, and has eye sight difficulties, is becoming more confident. He is exploring various art forms, and enjoys doing landscapes. When he first joined us he was very quiet and shy, and didn’t talk much to anyone. It was also difficult to know what he liked painting/drawing due to his sight problems. Having obtained a large magnifying glass for him to use, we were able to learn overtime how to guide him. This has been a valuable learning curve in gaining experience in finding ways to help people with sight problems to enjoy art.
Joseph has progressed in his social skills, and drawing skills. He likes to draw landscapes and birds and boats. Joseph is finding what materials he likes using, and prefers to use water coloured pencils. He is learning to shade colours of his choice. We can see his variety of art on our website.
Matthew who joined our music group three years ago. He needs the aid of a wheelchair, and gained so much confidence over the time in his social skills. It took him time to interact with others, but now he enjoys singing/listening to his choice of music. Taking turns when choosing his music. This is something that can be an issue with members. For the group to run calmly and effectively, taking turns is important, and a skill that encourages cooperation between them. Matthew now sings his favourite songs and joins other members dancing, by guiding his wheelchair into the middle of the floor. He feels part of the group. He can at times get out of his wheelchair to join in dancing. To see this is wonderful. He is happy and confident, and is the progress that Uniquely Me and U is having helping members to express themselves through music/art. The website has videos of music meetings showing members enjoying themselves.
Fiona joined our music group a year ago, and is autistic. She would not interact with anyone other than her support worker. Fiona didn’t know what music she liked, and it was difficult to find song that may be of interest to her. Over the weeks she would listen to the songs other members liked. I decided to give her a CD to encourage her to choose a song. We started at the first song and each week moved onto the next, until Fiona had heard them all. Then came the turning point. Fiona was able to choose a song from the CD. She was so pleased when it was her turn to sing. With prompting from her support worker, Fiona would get up to sing and hold the microphone. Another issue other members were encouraging her with, was to look at the others. Fiona would look towards the wall. Over time of encouraging and prompting her to turn round, she was becoming more confident. As Fiona’s confidence improved, she was interacting within the group, and getting up to dance without needing her support worker right beside her. Fiona was feeling part of the group and talking more clearly. She was able to say the names of other members who were singing. This is progress in her social/confidence skills that Uniquely Me and U is helping her to express.
Michael my son has improved so much in confidence and social skills since forming Uniquely Me and U. Going back to the beginning, I had no idea how giving him the opportunity through art/music would have so many beneficial effects on his quality of life and mental well being. In art he is now able to interact with the other members. make choices when deciding on group ideas, such as the circus theme the group completed, and can be seen on out website. Michael is expressing himself through art and finding out what other members like/dislike. As he did when he painted a picture of fireworks, and showing the group. I have given details and the picture on our website. Art is a way that is helping him express his feelings, in a way he couldn’t do before. He likes to set things out for the group, and feels a sense of responsibility and helping others. In music, his choice of songs is growing, and his speech is improving as he tries to sing the lyrics/words to his songs. He likes to help other members find their favourite music, and enjoys dancing and joining in. As Michael’s confidence and social skills are improving, he is developing a good sense of humour. He is beginning to know how to have a ‘joke’ with other members. This is real progress, as autistic people do not normally understand jokes or humour. Everything is black/white. For Michael and one or two other members to be developing in this way, is showing they are happy and feel safe in this small friendly environment and are buildings friendships.
As I have explained setting up Uniquely Me and U has been a learning curve for me. So many things have come out of it, and helped me to further develop the group. One area was through using music expression. We were encouraging this and found it was helping members who were less verbal, and enjoyed doing actions to music. On Fridays 12-30 till 2-30pm we have started our Music Express group. Again, It will be a small group to help members develop at their own pace.
We have a new member James. He is quiet and very shy. As we are just getting to know him and what music he likes. His support worker says he likes to play on his keyboard at home. We have been encouraging him to try using the keyboard at the group. James likes music with a beat, and tries to find different sounds on the keyboard. He likes doing actions to songs. Using his arms like flying an aeroplane or driving a car. In just a few weeks of coming to Music Express, James is settling in and already showing progress in his confidence. He walks in now so much more alert and happy to join us. His support worker is gradually moving away from him. Letting James find his own way to feel part of the group. It helps a great deal that the group is small. In a short time of knowing James, I get more eye contact, and he will also get up to dance, and do actions to songs. He enjoyed being recorded for our website introduction for Music Express, along with our other member Michael, who was doing the actions of driving a racing car. Expressing themselves through actions and having fun is definitely building their confidence, as we continue to explore and develop.
Our new music group project on Thursdays 1-00pm till 2-30pm to start in the new year, will be focusing on helping our learners to connect their favourite songs to the words/lyrics. Encouraging them to sing more clearly. Time will be spent helping them to develop their potential, whilst having fun. Anyone who may be interested should contact me first by email or mobile.
Uniquely Me and U is showing myself and our volunteers the beneficial effects of the group, while also learning and enjoying being part of it. By having the opportunity to express ourselves through art and music, we see the positive outcomes it can have on the lives of people with sensory/learning disabilities.
Studies have been done over the years to show the benefits on mental well being music and art can have. References to the research can be read here: Sydney De Haan Research Centre, and Music, Language and The Brain by Aniruddh D. Patel.