The Telegraph
Wednesday , February 2 , 2011
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dance & drama keys to life
Participants at The Miracle Project workshop. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Role-play is important while dealing with children with autism. Before a visit to the beach, parents can create an artificial environment to help the child cope with the change of scene better. “Put some soapy water on his hands, place a fan near his head and let him get used to some sand under his feet,” said US-based television and film producer Diane Isaacs to a roomful of parents, principals and special educators.

The mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism (Wyatte), Isaacs was in the city to hold a three-day workshop on autism and explain the “The Miracle Project”, of which she is the co-founder. The project aims at understanding autism better and helps to cultivate social skills in a child with autism using dance, music and drama. Isaacs was accompanied by music therapist Karen Howard. The Calcutta-chapter of the event was organised by Parent Circle Time Autism Identified (Pactai), a parents’ forum, from January 28-30.

“Autism is a challenge, no doubt. It can lead to strange and erratic behaviour in a child. We have to regulate their senses and help them express themselves better. The Miracle Project comprises seven keys that will help unlock the hidden potential in a parent or a special educator first, and ultimately help the child bloom,” added Isaacs.

Students of Disharee Montessori House were treated to a tram ride on Republic Day. They visited heritage sites like Raj Bhavan, GPO, Writers’ Buildings and also got a taste of old Calcutta in Chitpur and Shyambazar. The three-hour ride began from Gariahat tram depot. Picture by Aranya Sen

The parents were first taught to accept their children the way they were and connect with them better. They participated in dance movements, songs, simple games and breathing exercises designed for the purpose. In one such exercise, those present were separated into groups of four. Each member took turns to become the “outsider” and try to get into the group as others moved away from him/her. The feeling of awkwardness that a child feels on being left out was thus demonstrated. “I did not like the feeling of being an outsider,” said a parent at the end of the exercise.

There were breathing exercises too that helped the participants release their stress.

“Go with the flow. Understand your child,” said Issacs in a hushed tone as she made her “students” close their eyes, inhale, exhale and lose themselves in a harmonious world of their own. Many parents claimed they felt more optimistic and energised after the session.

“When I learnt that my child has autism, I was shocked. But now, I want to be positive. I am searching for a way to teach my child better,” said Gayatri Srinivasan.

The seven keys for unlocking autism are setting an intention for oneself, loving oneself, understanding the sensory profile of a child with autism, following his lead, including him in day-to-day activities, introducing a real situation to the child through role play and praising him for his good behaviour.

The last day of the workshop saw around 25 special children joining in the celebration of their life.

“The methodology used in The Miracle Project is holistic. As parents and children participated in the exercises, a lot of gaps were bridged and there was hope for a better future for these kids,” said Krishna Roy, the president of Pactai.

Thirteen-year-old Arpan moved restlessly from one corner of the room to another on the fifth floor of The Regency on Hungerford Street.

Ten minutes later, he was introduced to 14-year-old Wyatt Isaacs and instantly opened up to him. Both Arpan and Wyatt are children with autism and were attending the screening of Autism: The Musical, a double Emmy-winning documentary, on January 27. The Miracle Project is the subject of the documentary and the screening provided a preview to the workshop.

The film focuses on the lives of five children with autism who put up an original stage production after being trained in The Miracle Project methodology. The actors included Adam, who plays the cello and taught himself the harmonica at two; Lexi a singer; Wyatt (Isaacs) a budding actor, musician and writer; Neal, who has found a way to express his wants, and Henry, who is knowledgeable about dinosaurs and the world of reptiles.

Priyadarshini Goswami

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