Nguyet Thu performed with autistic children at the Vietnam National Academy of Music in 2016 (Source: courtesy of Nguyet Thu)
 
Hanoi (VNA) – Tears, teasing and discrimination are absent in this school, where dozens of children with autism are emotionally immersing themselves, in the sound of music and painting, creating their own world.

The Sunrise for Arts (SforA) school in Hanoi is the first educational facility in Vietnam taking on music as a life support and form of behavioural therapy for children with autism.

When music becomes a form of therapy 

Internationally-known and award-winning violist Nguyen Nguyet Thu, who founded SforA, has a 17-year-old son with autism.

After years of doing researches to help her own autistic son, Thu found that defects in detecting sounds are common among autistic people.
 
"Music and a proper teaching method can do tremendous good to those with the condition," Thu told Vietnam News Agency.

“We can tell if they (the children with autism) are in a friendly or nervous mood via the music and tone they are playing,” she said.

With that understanding, SforA teachers know how and when to teach their students to play music, to learn language skills, or how to behave so they can grow their awareness and personality. 
 
Nguyen Trung Hieu, 15, Giang Vo, Hanoi, a SforA student has a special sound detecting ability. He can hear sounds at much higher and lower frequencies than average people. (Source: VNA)

“By measuring the sound sensitivity of my students with a specialised tool, I can tell who has special talents for music and help them to develop their skills,” the musician added. 

Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by trouble with social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behaviors. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
 

Autism is normally viewed as a type of disability. In fact, some children with autism have distinctive patterns of brain activity. Some even develop special gifts.

After nearly five years of operation, SforA has set up three centres in Hanoi, delivering affordable treatment services. It has developed its own textbooks for music lessons, social skills and basic academic knowledge.

“I hope what SforA has done will be widely applied to help more children with autism,” Thu said.

Parents' love for their child never gets old

A daughter of Thoa (who doesn’t want her full name to be published) was diagnosed with autism when she was small. 

“My daughter could not talk like other children. I kept hoping that she had something wrong with her vocal cords even when she showed other typical symptoms of autism,” Thoa recalled.

Thoa took her daughter to an ENT doctor for a test. The doctor concluded that her daughter had autism.

“At that moment, I was not surprised or sad, and my maternal love told me that my child is perfect whatsoever.”

Nguyen Thi Van Anh, in Hanoi, has a son with autism.

“Sometimes, my son ran around the house and yelled at midnight. My husband and I ran after him. It was worse than a nightmare.”

“However, my maternal instinct told me to care more about figuring out ways to help my son improve rather than wondering where his condition came from,” she said.

Nguyet Thu said her son came into her life as a perfect gift.

“Looking back, I sometimes thought of my son as an angel, who came to help me know better the purpose of my life.”

She believes she is destined to help other children with autism become complete to their parents, as well as to inspire their parents, and give them trust and hope to continue the journey with their children.

Be real friends with your autistic child

According to Hoang Duong Binh, head of the Hoang Nhan Psychological Consultation Club, parents of children with autism need to adapt themselves to and be true friends with their children. 
 
"Many parents of autistic children tend to get nervous and impatient, which is understandable," Binh said.

However, they are supposed to create even more friendly and peaceful atmosphere to help their children achieve a mind-emotion balance, he suggested.
 
Hoang Duong Binh at a workshop on sharing experience in practicing meditation to support autistic children in Hanoi on April 18 (Source: VNA)

There is a special connection between children and parents, particularly the mothers, therefore the mother’s state of mind has an influence on her children’s wellbeing in a strong and subtle manner, according to Binh. 

“Children who have patient, emotionally attentive and sensible mothers tend to have balanced and peaceful minds, while those having nervous or ambitious mothers tend to bear stresses, even fears,” the expert elaborated.

Binh is among the pioneers to apply meditation in treatment of mental disorders in Vietnam. He believes meditation can be an effective therapy and advises parents of children with autism to practice meditation. 
 
“Some said my advice is nonsense. However, I would like to let the outcomes of our centre over the past decade speak for themselves,” Binh told Vietnam News Agency on the sidelines of a recent workshop “Meditation for parents of children with autism” in Hanoi.

He said positive energy created by parents who practice meditation will do some good to the improvements of their children with autism.

Currently, Binh gives meditation instructions for dozens of parents of children with autism, who believe they, more than anyone or anything else can make the difference for their own children.
 
After all, any children, particularly vulnerable ones should be more of the responsibility of their parents than any institutions, Binh added.

Also at the workshop, PhD.Truong Thi Nhu Quynh, head of the Natural Life meditation club said meditation has become a popular treatment method. Some diseases have good response to silent treatment, such as meditation.
 
PhD.Truong Thi Nhu Quynh at the workshop (Source: VNA)
 
“Parents who practice meditation will have more balanced and calm behaviour, creating a more positive environment for their children to grow up," Quynh said.
 
"Ultimately, meditation can generate good impacts for the living quality of families with a member with autism, thus building trust among them,” Quynh explained.

After practicing meditation at the Hoang Nhan Club, “I have felt positive changes in feelings, behavior, and attitudes towards my daughter,” Thoa said.

Like Thoa, Nguyen Thi Van Anh practiced meditation after she once sought help from a sorcerer amid confusion. She realised that patience and calm have walked her through the ups and the downs.

“Since practicing meditation, I have felt less worried and doubtful and had a more tolerant look at my son’s world, as well as established a better connection with him,” Van Anh said.

Recently, Van Anh and her husband have no longer had to wake up at night and run after their son around the house, because he has a good sleep. 

Love, trust, and patience bear fruit

“My daughter now likes to draw. Her paintings are simple and filled with such emotional expressions as sadness, joy, crying or smiling faces. Sometimes, she watches films and asks me why the actress cries,” Thoa said.

The eight-year-old girl, who used to stay hidden, now socialises quite well. She remains quiet sometimes, which Thoa would consider part of her character rather than symptoms of autism.

Maternal trust and love have given Nguyet Thu determination and patience to accompany her son over the past decade.
 
“The way he shows his emotions naturally, his behaviours and attitudes really surprise me,” Thu said proudly.
 
Nguyet Thu and her son (Source: courtesy of Nguyet Thu)

Thu’s 17-year-old son, who couldn’t speak at four, now can speak English, Dutch, and Portuguese. He loves his mother so much.

“If I had been equipped with better knowledge a decade ago, I thought I could have helped my son to be absolutely normal, even become a talented person,” Thu said.

Nguyet Thu hopes that, with her own experience and dedication, SforA School will offer more opportunities for other children with autism. She also plans to set up a therapy model targeting parents of children with autism.
 
“Being parents, you should always be there for your children when they need you most, whether they are smart or autistic, to become geniuses or any average persons.”-VNA

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