Dropping paper and cards on the ground does not happen to be my urge personally, but it does happen to be something one of my students finds greatly interesting. In fact, it is something he will walk off and do any time he feels he needs to or wants to. Yes, this student does have autism. When I first started doing an evaluation with him, I was searching for ways through music to keep him distracted from the things he desired or felt he needed to do. The team was searching for ways to keep him engaged so he could get his school work done.
In the middle of the evaluation process (which takes a few weeks), I was asked to read the book titled, The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida, a boy with autism. I believe he was about 13 when he wrote it (and when I say write, I mean he had someone help him get the words out that he wanted to say in a much different way than we would write). Even though I was aware of the sensory differences in all sensory systems that those with autism experience, this boy changed the way I approached my techniques. I realized that many times, they cannot control the urges they have to do different things and sometimes cannot even realize what their limbs are doing.
Naoki explained how much detail they see in objects upon first sight. For many of us, we see the object as a whole and then begin to notice details over time. This gave me ideas about my own student. If I have to guess, I would say he processes visual sensory information much differently than I. He sees something I do not see, constantly looking towards the ceiling with his hand moving slowly in front of his face. He has a great fascination with airplanes and things moving through the air, hence, the dropping paper and cards and watching them fall to the ground.
Well, I had completed all of my observations and information gathering. I was now on the third day of assessing his IEP objectives WITH music and comparing them to how he did WITHOUT music. It had served well as a memory and information recall tool for this boy, but it was not keeping him focused and less distracted from any stimulation urges he had. The music was not motivating him and motivation to work with music is usually the first sign that music therapy would be a good therapy for a student, and we were down to one more objective of learning his phone number. He is great at matching pictures, letters, and numbers which is what we were having him do to the melody I was singing, but he had no interest whatsoever to leave his ceiling gazing and paper dropping.
The teacher and I sat for a minute both of us thinking. Think outside the box...think outside the box...nothing in the box has been successful...what message would Naoki be giving to me here? Well of course. An idea came. Stop fighting the urge....use them in the objective. I tossed some of the numbers he used to match his phone number on the floor with some of the extra numbers that he didn't need. I saved some for him too and made sure he noticed when I tossed them on the floor. "Here, your turn," I told him. He took some and let them fall to the floor. On his face we could see signs of pleasure. "Find the number 2 like this!" I showed him and then sang the melody. And he found it and placed it in the correct spot. Oh thank heavens. It took a few more drops to the floor with the numbers, but we managed to get the phone number matched and in addition were able to get him to recall the numbers afterward through the melody. Success? I definitely felt like it was.
He received music therapy services following, because of how well it worked as a memory tool and conveyor of information. Another yay for music. Keep the music in you!