HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Denie Riggs is a 50-year-veteran music teacher who has seen her share of special needs students. "In 2009, working with an autism specialist, we started a class called 'Music for Me,' just for children with autism."
Autism has been described as a world in and of itself. And it takes a very special key to unlock the door to enter that world. Riggs said, in this case, music is the key. "The first student who enrolled was 4 years old and non-verbal. And within three weeks she started singing along with the songs and then started speaking."
MusicHelpsAutism.com was soon born. And so was Riggs' desire to reach out and help others by writing a book. "Our case study last year, we had seven children to come in, non-verbal. At the end of the eight-week period, five of them had broken through - either starting to speak or into useful language. And that blows me away."
Marge Farley is the great-grandmother to 8-year old Nicholas Bastiaans. He was diagnosed as non-verbal, mild-to-moderate autistic at 3 months of age. "When he first came to us, four months before his third birthday, he wasn't potty trained and he made audible sounds... but nothing recognizable. He talks now, communicates, sings. And he's starting to learn the piano some," Farley said.
Nicholas played piano and sang for us during our visit.
Jamie Rinkel was diagnosed with severe autism and started here in July. Her mom, Linda Rinkel, said the progress is slow, but it's still being made. "She could say 'bye' and 'love.' And after three weeks, she started saying my name over and over one evening. When she had a major breakthrough, I was so excited! I wanted to work with her really hard after that. I was very motivated," Linda enthused.
"This was life changing for her and our family, because the music calms her down. It changes her mood and she is really much happier today. She's still considered non verbal, but the words are coming and I have a lot of hope," she added.
Riggs said the results are great. "It's just incredible... the power of music."
A power shining a ray of hope to children, parents and great grand parents.