Laura Williams says the material provided in Columbus State University's new Whole Steps program is fundamentally the same that music students receive universally but will be delivered in a way that considers issues common to students with autism.
Williams is coordinator of the Music Preparatory Division of the Schwob School of Music and will be an instructor in the division's program that begins Monday.
The music classes are for elementary and middle school children with autism.
The Autism Society describes the condition as a complex developmental disability that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of children with autism in the U.S. is now one in 68.
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Learning to play the piano, including note reading, singing pitches, moving to music and identifying the work of classical composers, are all part of Whole Steps.
Williams said the goals are education and having fun.
She emphasizes that the program is not music therapy, though music can have a therapeutic effect on students.
"Such a large amount of research has suggested that music is therapeutic for people with autism," Williams said. "There is a strong response to it and a special affinity for it. There are many cases where students with autism are musically gifted. For example, it has been shown that moving to music connects the motor and auditory parts of the brain, which can have a positive effect on understanding verbal commands."
She added that the classes will provide opportunities for vocal expression through singing and physical expression through movement.
One mother who already has her child enrolled is Charlotte Bowman.
She said she has tried in the past to get James, 10, a fifth-grade student in the Muscogee County School District, music lessons but couldn't find a teacher experienced in working with an autistic child.
She hopes her son will like the class.
"I have my fingers crossed," she said. "I think it could be very beneficial to him."
She said she took piano lessons and got "wonderful benefits."
Bowman said James loves math and working with Legos. Most of the other activities he has been involved with are athletic, such as swimming.
The classes will meet once a week for 10 weeks at Trinity Episcopal Church on First Avenue.
"We have a space issue here at the school," Williams said
She said each student will have a keyboard.
Williams called the group classes both an opportunity for social interaction as well as communication.
She said many children with autism learn visually so the information in the classes will be presented as visually as possible. For example, in learning to read music, the keys on the keyboards will be colored to correspond with the colors of notes on the staff.
"None of the techniques we're using are new. They are just combined in a new way," she said.
Whole Steps combines the enjoyment and benefits of music with the fundamentals of a well-rounded music education.
"The response has been great so far," Williams said. "We are getting a lot of support from local autism groups."
The tuition for the classes is $285. Monthly payments of $95 can be made. New classes will form during the year.
For more information or to register, call 706-641-5124.