As my final post for you in 2014, I offer a story…
It was a wintery Friday morning in Wisconsin. I was teaching a “Learning Through Song” class for kids with special needs and their parents. Through a strange set of circumstances, I only had one child show up. I will call him Jeremy.
Because this class was through an early childhood music program and I did not do a formal assessment and treatment plan for these kids, I did not know Jeremy’s formal medical history beyond the fact that he had “brain trauma” at 3 weeks of age. Jeremy attended class with his foster mom, who was also a speech therapist.
Jeremy had always been resistant to strumming the guitar but was crawling independently and was clearly a bright little boy. On this day, Jeremy got lots of undivided attention! Instead of being given the chance to explore the guitar for 90 seconds during our hello routine, we were able to spend an extended amount of time on this.
I started by just singing our familiar greeting song as I finger picked my nylon string guitar. He gazed intently at my fingers for the duration. I immediately repeated the song but did a simple downward strum with my thumb, followed by another verse while I awkwardly did a downward strum with my index finger (sort of challenging when you are behind the instrument).
Jeremy’s gaze never waivered. I had recently completed a Neuroscience of Music in Therapy course with Dr. Blythe LaGasse and also reviewed the concept of mirror neurons in several other resources. As Jeremy watched my finger, I could imagine those mirror neurons lighting up. As soon as I finished, I offered the guitar to him and shazam!…he willingly and easily strummed with his index finger for the duration of our hello song!
A mirror neuron is one that “lights up” or fires both when an individual is performing an action and when that person is observing someone else doing an action. We all thought that playing the guitar was a sensory issue for Jeremy, and that may have been partially true, but now it seems that he just needed a chance to observe the technique of what he should do with his finger. Mirror neurons in action!