Schools, whether in the private or public system, offer various recreational activities such as sports, arts, or even scientific activities. However, few of these activities are adapted for students with special needs.
Since 2016, the National Centre for Dance Therapy has been working with schools in the Greater Montreal area to offer adapted dance and dance therapy activities to students with special needs. Thus, the Centre fulfills its mission to make dance accessible to a broader audience and to share the benefits of it from a young age. Then, participants tend to share these tools and experiences with their families and friends.
Between October and December 2021, Audrée Papineau-Chartrand, coordinator at the NCDT, had the opportunity to offer adapted dance to four groups of high school students on the autism spectrum at the Gerard-Filion school (Longueil). Below, she shares with us her experience.
“Sometimes, the school context can be rigid, demanding, or stressful. Providing activities that meet the needs of the students is certainly an asset to their education”Audrée Papineau-Chartrand
This fall, I had the honour of teaching and dancing with high school teens on the spectrum. I say honour because part of this project was relayed to me in succession to excellent teachers.
I have to say that it had been a very long time since I had set foot in a high school and when I first entered, I felt overwhelmed with memories. On the first Tuesday, when the students entered the auditorium for their adapted dance class, even though I had a very specific plan, I immediately adjusted it because I wanted to connect with them, to learn who they are and, above all, to see how they liked to move. Having myself, as a child and teenager, participated in many dance activities, I felt the need to bring them an interpretation of dance and movement that would be the closest to what each of them needed and wanted. Teenage years are the period when we discover and affirm ourselves, affirm our individually, when our need to belong to a group is the greatest. At that age, our universe revolves around the school and related activities. Regardless of our needs and characteristics, the essential remains the same for everyone at this time of our lives.
Dance is an outlet for expressing this individuality and a way to build confidence while discovering oneself. In adapted dance classes, we work on various objectives, such as the development of motor skills and kinesthetic sense, social skills, self-confidence, listening to and respecting instructions, creativity, the regulation of emotions, communication, and more. Each version of the same movement is valid, and this supports the principle of individuality and identity in a safe environment. During the class, no one is forced to dance: the decision is up to the students, they can choose to move exactly as they are asked to or in their own way. In the end, what matters is participating: if they are present, if they participate and they engage with the group, they dance.
In the last few weeks of the projects, talking with the teachers and facilitators of the groups participating in the project, I confirmed that the motor skills and confidence of participants had considerably improved during those few months. One of the participants has an increased confidence and acceptance of her body, which allows her to integrate more easily into her group. Another student, with mobility and physical issues, now exercises every day at lunchtime and loves dancing. Seeing these young people flourish in the movement without feeling obliged to do so was revealing for the teaching staff.
In conclusion, dance is a wonderful tool for self-discovery. By observing others in movement or dancing, we connect differently.