Music therapy helping autistic children in Nepal

Bibbi Abruzzini

Bono, the lead singer of U2, a popular Irish rock band, once said that "music can change the world because it can change people."

This is what a group of music therapists here are trying to do with autistic children in Nepal.

"Music therapy can be beneficial to children with autism. The greatest challenge is to build trust in the relationship between the therapist and the child," Kendra Gandharba, a clinical music therapist told Xinhua Wednesday as Nepal joined the world in observing Autism Awareness Day.

When Rahul (not his real name) was three years old, he was still unable to speak and to interact with people. It was only then that his mother realized that there was something wrong with her son.

After consultations with doctors she came to know that Rahul, now six years old, is an autistic child.

Experts believe that the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) presents itself in the first three years. The condition is the result of a neurological disorder that has an effect on normal brain function, affecting social interaction and communication skills.

Several studies suggest that children with autism show emotional expression and social engagement during music therapy sessions.

Currently there are 15 autistic children benefiting from the power of music through an individual and collective session a week, as part of an initiative launched by the Music Therapy Trust Nepal.

"With music therapy we work on five developmental areas: communication, awareness, motor movement, social and emotional skills," Gandharba, one of Nepal's only three certified music therapists, explained.

In the music therapy room, Xinhua met Shyam (not his real name) as he timidly sat in front of the keyboard. Smiling at the therapist, the 10-year-old boy started playing the keyboard and then improvised some rhythms on the percussion.

"He is one of our most difficult kids," Ghandarba, who belongs to a community of occupational caste musicians, explained.

Playing and sharing instruments, engaging in music games and singing are just a few ways through which the therapist tries to interact with autistic children.

Autistic children are free to pick the musical instrument of their choice. During collective music therapy sessions they not only learn how to interact with the therapist but also among them.

Music therapy, however, is still at an embryonic stage in Nepal where autism remains a taboo in the country's rural areas.

"In villages I have seen people with mental or physical disabilities chained and being treated like animals," Ghandarba said, adding that efforts should be made to introduce music therapy in Nepal's rural areas.

AutismCare Nepal (ACN) estimates that there are 30,000 to 60, 000 people living with autism in the country but the figure may be inaccurate since there are many cases not diagnosed or reported, particularly in the countryside.

The organization hosted different events in the framework of the World Autism Awareness Day to educate, create awareness among parents about the rights of children with autism.

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