Teaching special kids using dance, drums

Using drums to help the children express themselves.

EXPRESSIVE arts has been proven to help special needs children. Dance and music works with them because they respond better.

“Whatever we were trying to do in a one-to-one session with an occupational therapist or speech therapist became easier when it was done in a dance style. The children were moving their limbs and head, imitating us and, most importantly, they were having fun and we were having fun,” says Christina Jeremiah, general manager of Pusat Ilmu Pesona Insan (PIPI, www.pipisb.com).

That’s when she realised that expressive arts is something PIPI should venture into.

According to her, PIPI is not just for special needs children. It offers classes and sessions for “any child who may need the essence of learning in their own way”.

The programmes offered are more holistic in nature, with various methods used to bring out the child’s potential.

Expressive arts

“We source and welcome whatever programmes work and which make an impact. That’s how I got in touch with Joanne Lara, who is the one who started the autism movement therapy (AMT) in California.

Christina Jeremiah: 'We source and welcome whatever programmes work and which make an impact.'
Christina Jeremiah: ‘We source and welcome whatever programmes work and which make an impact.’

“These children, some of them are not able to do imitation skills, or they are inattentive and are not able to have eye contact. With expressive arts we give them a chance to see themselves in a mirror or they are applauded for their movements to the music. They enjoy it and want to move their limbs. They want to follow the rhythm. They may just be rocking, but it doesn’t matter as there is no right or wrong here. We just want them to feel the rhythm.

“Within two or three months, they would be able to follow. The expressive rhythm story, in particular, is fantastic. It is a storytelling session done to a drum rhythm. The story is choreographed in such a way that the rhythms are added into the story. For example, a dog is running, then the rhythm would follow the sound of a dog running, fast or slow,” she adds.

According to Jeremiah, the children love the use of drums and seem captivated by the story.

PIPI uses academic lessons such as Maths or Science to help the children in their development.

“For example, we come up with a basic line of activities, maybe something to do with Science, but we have specific goals that we are looking at in the child. It’s not about really about the Science lesson, but more about how they are able to connect with the instructions and progress. We are looking at various aspects,” explains Jeremiah.

Seeing potential

At the same time, PIPI also offers classes for the children who are way ahead of the rest. “Sometimes you might see an autistic child whose cognitive level is very good and academically he is able to do Form 1 or Form 2 level, but he is not able to express much. We would have research projects for them. We are extensive in trying to push them, if they have the ability to go further,” says Jeremiah.

She explains that the classes at PIPI do not replace school. They are additional classes for the children. If they go to afternoon school, they might go to PIPI in the morning. The purpose is to help the children perform better at school.

The programmes done at PIPI need the commitment of the parents because there will always be followup activities at home. The parents need to practise what is taught at PIPI. “We provide the tools for parents to work with,” explains Jeremiah.

However, she explains that the centre is not for those whose challenges are severe.

Young ones

If the children are young, about 3-6 years, there’s an early intervention programme.

“Sometimes they might not be able to sit or they don’t make eye contact. We prepare them for table top activity so that they are able to sit and do some writing or puzzles, whatever is necessary for their writing skills, attention and hand-eye coordination. There are a few things that we tackle but our ultimate goal would be to try and prepare the child for Year 1 in school or kindergarten. But, if that doesn’t happen, what’s next? So, they have to be in a classroom environment doing academics or just getting some structure.

“We want them to go to a school environment so that they can mingle and absorb what is taught. In our case, we want to get results. Every six months we review and show the parents how the child has progressed. So, every child who comes here shows results; we cannot say that we don’t have any results. There are results,” she explains.


The centre is open from Monday to Thursday and the fees start from RM450. Typically, there are about 9-15 children at the centre every month.

Formerly in the engineering line, Jeremiah then went into volunteer work and since 2004, she has managed a few centres for special needs children.

“In the course of managing them, I have come across a lot of therapy that work and some that don’t work. I finally realised we need to find something that is not too pricey, that is a continuous method and I found that we must absorb new ideas. The most important thing is the teachers and therapists themselves, and how to take them to a different platform.”

Currently, PIPI accepts children aged 3-12. However, it will be starting a programme for pre-vocational and vocational training as there is a demand for it. This is to prepare the teenagers for work and source work for them and maybe even get a job coach to assist them.

PIPI’s sister company Pesona Empowerment Hub organises workshops, classes and events for teachers and parents within the community. Among the workshops and classes offered are expressive rhythm story and AMT.