As one of the other undergraduate members of the Voices Together Bass Connections team, I have appreciated being on the organizing and designing side of a research project that has such a great potential to impact children with autism on a larger scale. In the few months since the start of the semester, I have had the opportunity to help develop a coding scheme, to truly understand the goals behind the Voices Together program, and to gain knowledge about the challenges associated with beginning research projects within a public school system.
Observing the music therapy session was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had from this team; having a younger sister with autism allowed me to personally connect with each and every one of the kids sitting in that room. Subtle gestures that some of the kids did — rocking back and forth, smiling at an object in the distance, or ensuring that every smudge on the whiteboard had been perfectly erased — reminded me of my sister and her bright smile, loving eyes, and perfectionism. Seeing a diverse group of individuals with autism having the ability and the opportunity to truly express themselves, regardless of where they were on the spectrum or how verbal they were, was extremely encouraging to see.
My family has struggled quite a bit to try to understand my sister over the years. Because she does not initiate any verbal communication, we have grown accustomed to paying careful attention to her facial expressions and hand gestures to decipher what she wants or needs at that moment. A few years ago, she was looking for a tiny hair clip that had fallen on the floor; unable to use her words, her eyes widened with anxiety and filled with tears as I tried desperately to comprehend what she wanted. My sister is now 19 years old and still does not verbally communicate with us, but through her increased comfort in knowing that we understand most of her needs and through creative outlets such as painting, she has become much less anxious than she used to be. As a sibling, I have always worried about how people outside of our family would understand my sister. The way in which the Voices Together music therapist interacted with the kids and the understanding that she exuded was not only reassuring, but exceptionally inspiring as well.