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From fearful to having fun

Beloit Daily News - 10/11/2017

TOWN OF BELOIT - Music classes can be especially hard for students with autism due to how loud music can be, and how it can be relatively unstructured.

Powers Elementary School students Mason Tucker and Tyler Dorris wouldn't participate in their regular music classes and disliked music altogether because of this.

"It took (Tucker) a while to even feel comfortable to pick the items up," Powers Principal Vickie Smith said.

To cope, when Powers Elementary School hired a second part-time music teacher, elementary music teacher Kelsey Schmutzer was able to begin working with four students with autism last year and also is working with four students this year to get them more comfortable with music.

"We want the students to participate that couldn't and find a way to be successful in music and enjoy it without being afraid of the noise," Smith said. "If they can make a noise and understand it then they can enjoy it."

Schmutzer works with the students in a one-on-one session on a weekly basis for 10-15 minutes, and the results speak for themselves.

Tyler, a second grader, went from having no desire to even touch instruments to now being able to sporadically read music.

"For him to be able to look, read and differentiate notes is phenomenal," Schmutzer said.

Mason, a first grader, is mostly non-verbal, and when he first started music class he would walk around the room and not participate.

"He used to come to us just so afraid of everything, all of the different music," Smith said. "For him to play the instruments is a huge step."

Special education teacher Mia Laursen said students with autism learn better one-on-one, with music class being an environment that's not always consistent.

"When they go into the classroom (now) they're more able and eager to learn and participate in the classroom, because they know what to expect," Laursen said. "It's like pre-teaching."

Laursen said it also helps the teacher, because they'll then know how to better work with the kids.

One-on-one sessions are based on the highest need and also what fits in Schmutzer's schedule. She said doing the one-on-one sessions reinforces the skills the students use with the whole class so they don't get as overwhelmed. She's also noticed some students are more on grade level then she originally thought while doing the private sessions, because many students with autism are quiet during class.

Since working with Schmutzer, both of the students will now participate in their music classes.


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