A new study suggests that autistic children can benefit greatly from Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP), writes Supritha Aithal.
The primary focus of the study rested not only on the wellbeing of children but also considered the potential of caregivers’ mental health as an effective intervention strategy.
The research was conducted under Edge Hill University’s Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, and findings suggest that engaging in creative movement and dance in the presence of a qualified therapist can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers.
The study involved 26 children aged between eight to 13-years and 37 caregivers, including parents and teachers, from two SEN schools in the North West of England.
Overall, the research has provided preliminary evidence that dance movement psychotherapy can be useful to enhance the wellbeing of children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers. Although these results cannot be generalised, the positive results from this study highlight the value of non-verbal creative interventions and the need to engage further in larger studies. During the DMP sessions, children were met at their preferred verbal and physical level to create kinaesthetic connections, while caregivers were encouraged to explore their strengths and reflect on their coping styles through movements. The sessions also encouraged children to engage in various levels of sensory-motor activities, creative, playful and improvisational movements.
What is DMP?
The UK’s Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy describes DMP as a distinct form of psychotherapy where the body, movement and dance can be used creatively as an instrument of communication to facilitate the integration of emotional, physical, social, cognitive and spiritual aspects of an individual. The study found that the intervention improved the social and emotional wellbeing of children participating in the study, irrespective of whether they preferred verbal or non-verbal modes of communication. It facilitated recognition of their body and of other people, allowing them both to connect and differentiate from others. For some children, DMP was found to support emotional regulation, build group connections and new vocabulary by providing opportunities to safely express difficult feelings.
The caregivers who attended the sessions also identified helpful factors which allowed them to relax and indicated a reduction in parenting stress measures. Although much of the pioneering work in this field has focused on children with autism, research evidence in this area has only recently become available, and it paints a hopeful picture of the future.
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Supritha Aithal is an Edge Hill University PhD student. She has focused her doctoral study on the benefits of Dance Movement Psychotherapy for children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers.