Isolation can be one of the biggest challenges for young people and those who are particularly at risk are individuals with additional needs or disabilities.
The ability to communicate can play a large part in this and although it’s something that many take for granted, for some, it’s a challenge that without the correct support can leave children feeling both disheartened and excluded. Suzie Sings & Signs hopes to tackle this issue head on by creating an environment where young people can benefit from the therapeutic opportunities that music and movement brings.
A conversation between Suzie and COINS Foundation Chair & Founder, Larry Sullivan, sparked the need for musical and social activities for children with varying abilities and disabilities, which supplemented Stepping Stones' flexible curriculum and teaching approach. In October 2013 Suzie Sings & Signs was born, headed up by Susannah Wilson, who brings a wealth of experience and professionalism from her time as both a drama teacher and ex-west end performer. Suzie works alongside Clare, whose youngest son has a disability and has witnessed first-hand how much the classes have benefitted him.
“I use signing to support the children in many different ways, allowing them to participate more fully in the activities and enhancing the communication of the spoken language used. We also include lots of movement and dance in our sessions, helping to develop vital muscle coordination, balance and strength.” Clare
Suzie Sings & Signs caters for a wide range of children and young people with varying abilities where the therapeutic benefit is even more important for those who are non-verbal or have physical and learning difficulties. The brain is stimulated to learn by the rhythm of the words, muscles operate in a more relaxed and fluid way and language development is supported by the use of signing. The programme concentrates on four different elements to allow the development of different skills and to ensure that all abilities are catered for, including; sing, sign, move and play.
“Music supports all areas of child development; intellectual, social, emotional motor and language. It helps the body and the mind work together by stimulating the brain.” Suzie
What was quickly realised is that not only is it beneficial for the young individuals but for their families too, as it creates a social activity where other siblings and family members can participate alongside them. By removing the formalities and adding an emphasis on inclusion, the sessions became a fun weekend activity that promote the social aspect with the therapeutic developments almost being a bonus. In addition, families have also found it to be a really strong support network for them to talk openly about issues or challenges they’re facing as well as swapping stories and advice on medical needs or services some may have queries about.
“We really enjoy coming along to Suzie Signs & Signs as a whole family - it’s such a friendly, welcoming group. Although our boys are unable to sing along to the music, they love listening to it and the visual aids and sign language used really bring the songs alive for them. Since taking part in the sessions we’ve noticed the boys have greater eye contact with Suzie and their attention levels have increased.” Claire, mum to Joel (10) and Thomas (8)
The sessions are currently held every other Saturday in the Tower Road building of Stepping Stones School in Hindhead and attract regular families to both their 9.30 am and 10.30 am groups, boasting a near record attendance in their most recent sessions. Currently, twenty-six families are using their services, some of which have changed as the children grow older but many of whom have stayed from the beginning having seen the difference it has made. A small charge of £4 is requested per family, which enables Suzie and Clare to deliver sessions within schools and other taster sessions to new groups.
Looking forward, Suzie and Clare hope to continue to grow so that they can take their unique service to more young people and their families who could benefit from their programme. If you’d like to find out more information, visit their website and don’t forget to follow them on Facebook for more regular updates.
“From 9 months to 3.5 years Chloe and her sister have enjoyed Suzie’s sessions. They are lively, vibrant, fun and different from anything else we attend. Their appeal is that they work for all ages and abilities. As a parent, I love both girls having fun together with Suzie.” Katherine, mum to Hannah (6) and Chloe (3.5)