Dance Therapy and Special Needs by Danielle McLaughlin

Dance therapy improves the lives of participating children and adults with special needs such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down Syndrome, and other disabilities.
Benefits of dance therapy include improvements in behavior, empathy, motor skills, and communicating thoughts and feelings.

In one survey, 31 students with ASD who took part in a dance therapy program reported feeling better about themselves and their interactions with others. Students presented more positive behaviors because they had improved empathy and social skills.

Case studies have shown that through dance therapy, students form bonds with peers and their teachers as a result of increased confidence, which they otherwise would not have had on their own.

Dance therapy is beneficial to those with Down Syndrome, especially those who experience muscle weakness and difficulties with coordination, because movement activities strengthen muscles and improve motor skills.

Since dance is a nonverbal activity, it allows for better interaction between instructors and children with ASD than other activities.

Dance is also an emotionally expressive art form, so it provides an alternative method to verbal communication for children to connect with others in movement therapy.

Dance improves memory because when students are learning movements and techniques, their visualization skills improve in order to memorize sequences effectively. These visualization techniques can be used in other disciplines such as school, work, and daily life.
The adaptive dance program at the Steffi Nossen School of Dance, "Moving Wheels and Heels," promotes their core idea that everybody can and should dance. Instructors note that throughout the program, students grow as they become more social, active, and happy due to the exercise and social connections in the classes.
Students become more comfortable interacting with others through increased confidence and communicating non-verbally.
Stigmas and concerns about program costs hinder the spread of dance therapy in educational, recreational, and healthcare settings. Many assume that dance is only for able-bodied people, or that boys can't take part in dance programs. Also, people worry about creating a dance therapy program cost-wise, because you need more resources and highly trained professionals.
To make these programs more widespread, we need to break the stigmas that society holds against dance and who can or cannot participate. We can also advocate for dance therapy programs to be implemented in public schools as an additional or alternative physical activity for students with special needs.

Credits:

Created with images by Felix Padrosa Photography - "Dance Studio" • zabaraorg - "Rock Dance Class" • SFU - University Communications - "Bhangra dance class" • manseok - "dance silhouette lighting effects" • jshontz - "IMG_5833" • SFU - University Communications - "Bhangra dance class" • USAG-Humphreys - "Creative Dance Class"

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