Cheap Trick’s Bassist Tom Petersson Helps Kids With Autism Learn Language With Rock ‘n’ Roll: Discover “Rock Your Speech”

You can’t fault peo­ple for turn­ing away from cur­rent events these days, but there are many pock­ets of light, even if they rarely make head­lines or get curat­ed by gloom and doom algo­rithms. Some opti­mism has come to us by way of musi­cians like David Byrne, whose good-news aggre­ga­tor “Rea­sons to Be Cheer­ful” show­cas­es pos­i­tive devel­op­ments around the world. Indie rock drum­mer Thor Har­ris has encour­aged fans with tips on how to stay healthy in try­ing times, and he has announced a run for gov­er­nor of Texas. And last fall, Cheap Trick’s bassist Tom Peters­son start­ed a project called Rock Your Speech, which “lever­ages the pow­er of music to build lan­guage skills in chil­dren who are work­ing to over­come speech delay asso­ci­at­ed with autism.”

As Peters­son and his wife Ali­son explain above, they were inspired by their expe­ri­ence with their son, Liam, who, “until the age of five,” reports David Chiu at Huff­in­g­ton Post, “had dif­fi­cul­ty com­mu­ni­cat­ing,” They dis­cov­ered that music could help when Liam began singing along to one of her favorite Elton John songs. Peters­son want­ed “to help oth­er par­ents,” he told Huff­Po, “and to let peo­ple know they’re not alone.” An L.A. ben­e­fit con­cert har­nessed the col­lec­tive pow­er of celebri­ties and indie artists to jump­start the project, with bands like the Dandy Warhols and Red Kross and actors Ed Asner and Bil­ly Bob Thorn­ton par­tic­i­pat­ing.

Rock Your Speech is not the only such ini­tia­tive, but it is prob­a­bly the most high-pro­file, and could bring atten­tion to sim­i­lar efforts like Audi­to­ry-Motor Map­ping Train­ing, devel­oped by Dr. Got­tfried Schlaug of the Music and Neu­roimag­ing Lab­o­ra­to­ry. At the Autism Speaks blog, Schlaug writes, “as many as three in ten chil­dren with autism are non­ver­bal. Yet many chil­dren with autism have supe­ri­or audi­to­ry skills and a par­tic­u­lar attrac­tion to music.” Like Rock Your Speech, his approach uses “forms of music-mak­ing that encour­age vocal­iza­tion as a path­way to devel­op­ing lan­guage.” Musi­cian and psy­chol­o­gist Adam Reece has also writ­ten about his research show­ing the pos­i­tive role music ther­a­py can play in lan­guage acqui­si­tion for kids on the spec­trum.

Petersson’s project puts a rock star face on music ther­a­py and comes “from the point of view of the par­ent,” he says. Rock Your Speech not only rais­es autism aware­ness but also offers orig­i­nal music and videos designed to stim­u­late and inspire kids. Hear “Blue” from the Rock Your Speech, Vol­ume 1 album above, one of sev­er­al songs Peters­son wrote that “employs actu­al rock music,” Chiu writes, “not nec­es­sar­i­ly the gen­tle, kid­die-type of sounds that are gen­er­al­ly preva­lent in children’s music.” Videos on the Rock Your Speech site for “Blue” and oth­er songs “not only show the words but also demon­strate to kids how those words are formed and mouthed.”

The project’s Vimeo chan­nel shows the Peters­son fam­i­ly involved in Liam’s speech devel­op­ment through music, includ­ing his old­er sis­ter Lilah coach­ing her broth­er with a song called “Wash Your Hands.” (See Lilah’s video above for her song “All the Same,” writ­ten for Liam.) Liam, now ten, has come a long way. “He’s in school,” says Peters­son, “He loves music… He’s def­i­nite­ly on the autism spec­trum, but he speaks, he’s social. He’s the sweet­est lit­tle guy.” His musi­cal fam­i­ly has a lot to do with that, but Rock Your Speech offers even non-musi­cian par­ents a wealth of catchy tools to help kids strug­gling with speech to con­nect with lan­guage through rock ‘n’ roll. For many fam­i­lies, that could be very good news indeed.

via Huff­Po

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Research Shows How Music Lessons Dur­ing Child­hood Ben­e­fit the Brain for a Life­time

Music in the Brain: Sci­en­tists Final­ly Reveal the Parts of Our Brain That Are Ded­i­cat­ed to Music

Sun Ra Plays a Music Ther­a­py Gig at a Men­tal Hos­pi­tal; Inspires Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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