John Knox is an autism practitioner with Scottish Autism. He has run a music group in the Lothian service for 10 years and is also the placement supervisor for Music Therapy students from Queen Margaret University. John uses the creative arts, in particular music as a means of communication. John as nominated as an Autism Champion by one of his colleagues at Scottish Autism.
Initially I worked for European Services for People with Autism, ( E.S.P.A.) in Seaham and Sunderland, for 12 years, in roles as Support Worker, Senior Care and Manager, and have since worked for Scottish Autism, ( over 12 years). Previously I had studied art at Hartlepool Art College and Sunderland University. Initially I worked at the Old Vicarage in Seaham where I worked with people with severe learning difficulties who had autism. It was there where I began to work on a one to one support basis with individuals, often incorporating art skills to help build a basis for developing communication and social skills. I used collage work in particular and was able to see notable progress with certain individuals in their tolerance of other people and the ability to enjoy interactive exchanges.
I have run a music group within Lothian services for 10 years, and I also work individually with service users. As an example: one service user particularly enjoys the sound of guitar playing and singing, he has difficulty with motivation, he does not communicate verbally and uses only one sign language (for please). He uses this to ask for me to play the guitar and will lead me to the cupboard where he knows it is kept. When I play and sing he becomes animated and will play on a drum, stand up and dance and clap his hands. These skills have enabled him to join the music group where he will sign please to hear a song. I think the music making has been superb in helping us form a bond/working relationship, and has helped develop the service user’s communication skills, as a result he is much more open to participating in learning and social situations.
I am a placement supervisor for music therapy students. Each year we are joined by a student from Queen Margaret University, who chooses an individual and a group of service users to participate in music therapy. It is my role to attend the sessions and to provide supervision for the student. I can discuss with the students, ( who may or may not have worked with people with autism before) any support that is required with understanding how service users communicate or any difficulties that may arise with the social aspects of being in a group.
I have received training from Nordorf Robbins Music Therapy through training seminars held for Music Therapists and those working in Health and Social Care, using music. I use some techniques I have seen used in music therapy and incorporate this into my work at A.R.C. This is demonstrated by having an appropriate start and finish to music sessions and participants communicating individually by using an instrument of their choice. Music then becomes a tool for communication and self expression. Improvisations encourage participants to create their own expression both as a group and as an individual within the group. Anyone can start the improvisation and any one can play the last note!
Some music group participants have performed at an Autism Gala in Edinburgh, singing and playing instruments, which we rehearsed at A.R.C.and was a goal for the group.
My motivation to continue in this work stems from my genuine enjoyment of spending time with the individuals I have met on the autism spectrum, and a certain satisfaction when a means of communication is formed that results in the individual having trust, and as a result finding the basis for learning and making progress in their personal development.