Autistic Professor Stephen Shore Uses Music to Communicate with Children with Autism

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Stephen Shore was once a nonverbal child struggling with autism, but today he is a professor of special education at Adelphi University, splitting his time between preparing graduate students to teach, and using music to communicate with children living with autism. The journey from an autistic child to a

university professor was undoubtedly a difficult one. Stephen was a more or less a typical toddler until he reached 18 months old, that is when according to him, “the autism bomb exploded. That’s when I lost functional communication, had meltdowns, withdrew from the environment, and, in short, became a very autistic little kid.” At the age of two, doctors started recommending that Stephen’s parents get him institutionalized, but thanks to his mother he stayed at home where his mother began, which would now be called, intensive, home-based, early intervention program.dr_stephen_shore

During the program, she emphasized movement, sensory integration, narration, imitation, and music, there was always music playing in Stephen’s house, but the real progress started happening once she began mimicking noises he made. According to Stephan, “When she began imitating me, I became aware of my environment.” Even though, at the age of four, language began to return life was still a struggle. At kindergarten he was bullied for repeating any noises and elementary school was also an uphill battle. But at home, Stephen was consumed with special interests like taking apart a kitchen knife to see how it worked and reading the newspaper. However, by the time he got to the upper grades, he started interacting with kids that shared his interest in music, joining a band and spending hours hanging out in the instrument closet, taking each one apart and figuring out how it worked. He also learnt that if he used words instead of sounds he could interact better with his classmates and made a few friends.

By the time he got to graduate school, he seemed to have outgrown his childhood difficulties, but there were still little things like not being able to analyze music of the Romantic era—a period that is less structured than Classical or Baroque, which was when he realized “autism is a lifelong thing—we can learn better how to work with it, and around it, and even use the characteristics as strengths, but it’s always there.” Stephan started talking to people in the education department and eventually earned a doctorate comparing various approaches to autism. Now Stephan uses music when working with children with autism, helping them sequence notes, by using post its or singing songs with them to help them relax. Stephan inspires communities all over the world by sharing his story and has become an advocate for those living with autism. He has spoken in 32 countries, written an autobiography, Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, coauthored Understanding Autism for Dummies, and his research comparing methodologies for educating children with autism has appeared in numerous articles.

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