When 11-year-old Connor first came to the MovementWorks therapy programme session he was facing severe challenges at school. His mother Lucy said: “Connor was often having to leave class and going awol and was getting zeros on all his daily record charts.”
Within a few weeks of attending the therapy Lucy saw a 360-degree turnaround in his school life, with Connor showing massive improvements in concentration and gaining the confidence to handle situations he would have found difficult.
She said: “The therapy has been life-changing for him, and I will be forever thankful for it. He can now behave maturely – he has even learnt to tell the time.”
Children aged 11 to 18 can join the ‘Action For Autism’ programme following referral from NHS social prescribing link workers. They can also sign up directly, even if they have not yet been diagnosed with autism. Matt Bramwell is one of a team of social prescribing link workers, from not-for-profit organisation Enable who work with young people in Wandsworth.
Matt said: “Creative movement therapy can help autistic children cope with anxiety and mental health challenges in a friendly environment. The communication skills they gain from this specialist support can increase their ability to engage more in their education and in medical appointments to improve their lives.”
My daughter was having a hard year at school and the sessions allowed her to focus on her body, music and make new friends. She really enjoys them.Parent
MovementWorks uses scientifically-backed methods, which combine dance and music to optimise the learning potential of children and young people of all abilities.
As founder Ali Golding explains: “Movement is at the core of children’s development. Autism movement therapy is designed to stimulate the brain, which improves cognitive processing and function. As well as motor skills progress, we also see children’s communication and interaction skills improve, helping with the challenges associated with autism.
“Plus, they are having fun at the same time which is so important for building self-esteem and confidence. It can make a real difference to their daily lives, strengthening their speech, social skills and improving their experience of school.”
Funded by Wandsworth Council’s pilot Arts for Health and Wellbeing Fund, the project is in partnership with local autism charity A2nd Voice. Weekly free sessions are held at Tooting Leisure Centre, delivered by MovementWorks which has supported more than 1,000 young people over the past five years.
Research among parents and carers of children taking part showed that 75% reported significant improvements in engagement, attitude to physical activity and quality of relationships at home and in school.
According to one parent, “My daughter was having a hard year at school and the sessions allowed her to focus on her body, music and make new friends. She really enjoys them.”
And for another, “I had a chance to see his movement difficulties. Bending over was very hard for him at first but with time he got more flexible and stretched out. He surprised me a lot with his confidence and ability to deal with the difficulties.”
The charity has also been running a related project called ‘Artistes For Autism’ which offers additional creative and performing opportunities. Some participants had the opportunity to join a Royal Academy of Dance Showcase as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe last year.
‘Action for Autism’ will be running until February 2024 and there are a few remaining places available as well as plans to continue beyond the spring.
Building on the success of the current programme the charity is expanding projects to reach younger children aged two to seven, who may be taking longer to walk, talk or have challenges with their social and emotional connections.
The project called ‘Build A Bridge’ funded by City Bridge Trust is launching in January 2024 will run weekly sessions at two sites one in Wandsworth and the other in Lambeth. Places are currently open for registration and no formal diagnosis is required to register.