College volunteer helps Center for Autism students reach goals with music therapy

Research shows that making music can create changes in the human brain, especially strengthening connections between the auditory and motor regions. In addition to the potential benefits music can provide a child with autism in speech and academic learning, Villa volunteer Lydia Heitman shows it’s just plain fun! For three summers, Lydia has brought joy to our Sarah Dooley Center for Autism students through music while helping them achieve individual goals.

Lydia is a rising senior at Shenandoah University studying music therapy. She comes to St. Joseph’s Villa three days a week during the summer to engage students in activities centered on music. Her songs and dances are geared toward teaching students movement, counting, rhyming, matching and socializing.

“They get a lot of choice. They can lead their peers, which is big for them,” said Lydia.

Lydia sings and plays guitar for students, who also have the opportunity to get hands-on with their own variety of instruments from drums to shakers. They light up when they’re called on to play.

When Lydia’s not leading our students in a music session, she assists teachers in other ways around the classroom and in off-campus, community-based instruction. After graduating, she hopes to work in a school setting helping children with autism and developmental disabilities.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Lydia. “I love working with these kids. It’s been fun to keep coming back and see how much they have grown.”

“We love having Lydia here. Our volunteers are very special people,” said Adam Dreyfus, Sarah Dooley Center for Autism Director.

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