Movement is a language. For children affected by autism, movement may be the only language they can rely on. Children with autism often have limited verbal abilities, making it extremely difficult for them to reach out (Hartshorn et al., 2001). When words fail, dance/movement therapy fosters a child’s ability to relate, communicate, and connect on a nonverbal level. This chapter will outline the use of dance/movement therapy with children on the autism spectrum. Specifically, it will introduce concepts of movement analysis and examine the potential in using movement-based assessments to create therapy goals and movement interventions for practical application.
This chapter includes case studies of two females (ages 3 and 11). These individuals receive services for autism-related diagnoses at a treatment center for children on the spectrum. The case studies will focus on the movement qualities and challenges unique to children with autism. Laban Movement Analysis, a complex system used to observe, describe, notate, and understand movement patterns (Hackney, 2002), will be introduced and used to decipher the movement profiles of the case study females. Dance/movement therapists are trained to observe and assess movement using this system and then make therapeutic interventions using their move-ment analyses. The other half of their clinical training is psychotherapeutic in nature. In a related but divergent vein from dance/movement therapy training programs, certified movement analysts complete comprehensive movement analysis programs where the observation and assessment of movement is at the core of their studies. For the purpose of the case studies described here, a Certified Laban Movement Analyst (CLMA) provided analyses, in addition to my own, in order to both enhance and provide reliability for the work. Portions of these analyses will be examined to discuss the use of formal movement analysis as an instrument for creating treatment goals.
LeFeber, Mariah M., "The Movement’s Message: Dance/Movement Therapy & Children with Autism" (2009). Faculty Publications - Graduate School of Counseling. 58.