Music Empowers Students to Discover New Abilities
“We have found that music is literally magical in the lives of our students and we see phenomenal transformations occur over relatively short periods of time,” explains TERI CEO and Founder Cheryl Kilmer. Since its inception in 1980, the nonprofit, located in San Diego, California, has grown to serve more than 600 children and adults touched by special needs every day. TERI’s pioneering array of life span services are recognized and emulated on state and federal levels, as well as internationally.
“Our mission is to change the way the world views people with autism and developmental disabilities,” continues Kilmer. Many of TERI’s students have talents that are often overlooked because of the severity of their disabilities. TERI’s Music and Performing Arts program aims to change that. Audiences are left stunned by the students’ musical and performance skills. Through an innovative curriculum, integrating technology, and working closely with music manufacturers, TERI has given students a unique means of interpersonal communication through the beautiful language of music.
Before coming to the TERI Music and Performance Arts Program, Chris, a young man with autism, was severely limited in speech. After three years of participating in music and theater classes, he sings, reads, and writes music. “It is pretty shocking to see how far he has come,” says Chris’s father. Recently, Chris performed for more than 1,500 people. “When he got up there and said, ‘My name is Chris and I am going to perform “Till There Was You,”’ I went, wow. Performance is an outlet of expression that has been his segue to interacting with the outside world. I always get this feeling like I want to tell everyone, ‘that is my boy up there playing piano,’ because it is pretty amazing.”
Recently, Kevin, a 17-year-old who started playing music two years ago, performed for 400 fourth graders and spoke about his life and early diagnosis with autism. “Music has definitely changed how I see myself. I feel like I am a cooler person in terms of mainstream cool,” says the bassist. Kevin’s mother agrees, “Since playing music I have seen huge changes; his confidence has increased a tremendous amount. I am blown away that he can talk and perform for perfect strangers. Being autistic, that is very difficult, and a couple of years ago, he could have never done that.”
Chris, Kevin, and many other success stories are attributed to a highly creative curriculum focused on each individual and enhanced by a multidisciplinary approach to teaching music. Working in cooperation with classroom teachers, music therapists, music educators, and behavioral specialists, vast improvements are made in social skills, self-expression, behavior modification, education, and most importantly, self-confidence.
“Technology unlocks a world of possibilities for students with disabilities, giving them independence, a voice for communication, and the opportunity to participate. TERI’s director of technology, Justin Kauffman, explains, “Give them a piece of technology and it can be a door or a window into who they are.” Many of the music lessons use assistive technology such as iPads, Promethean smart boards, overheads, and Xbox Kinect. A wide variety of electronic and digital music equipment and instruments help make learning and music expression a reality for individuals with special needs.
Currently, TERI is working with more than 20 major music manufacturers including Taylor Guitars, JamHub, You Rock Guitar, Deering Banjo Company, and Remo. Through these partnerships TERI is finding ways to make music more accessible to individuals with special needs. In return, TERI gives valuable feedback to manufacturers on how their products can be adapted or used in music therapy, education, and performance.
“Instruments like the You Rock Guitar and Remo drums can provide a whole new avenue of engagement in music therapy,” says Terri Wiener, MT-BC, a music therapist at TERI.
Recently, Remo Belli, CEO and founder of Remo, visited TERI to gain insight into how his Sound Comfort Technology and Not So Loud (NSL) drum tables are used to give students with auditory sensitivity, sensory integration, and socialization issues a voice for expression and interaction through drumming.
“What I am doing here at TERI school is really learning everything that is going on with these students,” says Belli, a pioneer in the music manufacturing industry who is revolutionizing music making for fun, health, and wellness. “I want to work along with George [TERI’s music and performance arts director], and the rest of the people at TERI, in the development of anything and everything that helps improve things.”
Through model programs like Performance Arts, TERI is setting the stage to address an ever-growing need in our communities. In only 20 years, there’s been a 600% increase in autism diagnoses, with one in five US children suffering from learning or developmental disabilities (CDC, March 2013). In response to this growing population, TERI is building the Campus of Life, a 20-acre property where equestrian, organic agriculture, and aquatic therapies are complemented by vocational, music, and performance arts. It is set to be an epicenter for research and resources for thousands of people and families affected by special needs.
For more information on TERI Campus of Life visit www.TERIInc.org.