“Where words fail, music speaks.” These words were penned hundreds of years ago by author Hans Christian Anderson and demonstrated how music can be used to help express hopes, dreams, feelings and thoughts. For individuals with special needs (like autism) who have great difficulty with communication and social skills, music can be an avenue where individuals with all abilities can express their emotions, connect verbally or non-verbally and participate in meaningful experiences with others. Research demonstrates that music engages many areas of brain and can be important in the development of language and social skills.
Unfortunately music-making experiences may not be available to individuals with special needs such as autism due to lack of financial resources. Often after age 22 the number of supported social and recreational services are very few. For three years, Banding Together’s Jam Session program has been bridging this gap for individuals with special needs such as autism at two locations in the local community. For example since inception, Jam Sessions have more than tripled in size. Beginning with 10 students/year in 2012, the program has grown to serve nearly 90 individuals/year. Banding Together’s long-term plan involves replicating this program in other locations across the country. There has been interest from the music therapy community to expanding Jam Sessions nationally. According to the California Department of Education, in 2010 there were approximately 57,273 individuals with special needs in San Diego County. Of that total, 23,544 are within are range of our programs. Our goal is to continue to meet the needs of this underserved special needs population in our community.
Founded in 2009, Banding Together’s mission is to bring music opportunities to individuals with special needs (such as autism and Down Syndrome) in our community. This is accomplished through key objectives that include providing: music therapy scholarships, free Jam Session programs, mentorships with musicians, and instruments. Since 2009, we have awarded 79 music therapy and adapted music lessons scholarships totaling $48,140. Since 2012, we have reached 122 individuals aged 13-24 in our Jam Session program, 56% who have autism. In our Camp Jam program (a music therapy based summer camp) we have served 80 elementary students with special needs.