News / Ottawa

Ottawa music program tunes in to kids with autism

A pilot project music program in Ottawa is aiming to gently introduce kids with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome to live tunes.

The Lotus Centre for Special Music Education teamed up with the National Arts Centre (NAC) to develop music workshops for six-to-12-year-olds with special needs and their parents.

Erin Parkes, director of the Lotus Centre, said children with autism tend to respond well to music, but may be easily overwhelmed in a concert setting.

“There was just nothing offered in Ottawa, really, in terms of music for kids with special needs,” she said. “In North America, there’s only one other school, that I know of, like Lotus Centre, that offers music lessons just for kids with special needs. They do quite well as long as it’s presented in an adapted environment that makes sense to them.”

Elizabeth Simpson, a French horn player with the NAC, lead the first three workshops at the Lotus Centre. She introduced brass instruments that the kids could touch, played classical music, had the group clapping and singing and played a lullaby to calm everyone. Headphones were available for anyone who didn’t like certain sounds.

Parkes said that within two hours of advertising the event by email, the workshops had a waiting list.

Meredith Willis Vautour was lucky enough to nab a spot for her six-year-old son, who has autism. She said he has always loved classical music, but that taking him to a concert at the NAC would be too overwhelming with all the lights and people around.

When he learned he would be able to touch brass instruments, he warmed up to the workshops. And he really took to the classical music, she said.

“The telltale sign, for us, was when it was all over, he just silently sat there and we saw tears running down his cheek,” she said. “So then we knew, this was it. He loved it.”

There will be a final interactive concert at the NAC on Saturday. Parkes said she hopes to develop the music program beyond the pilot phase.

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