My incredible son Gabriele is 10yrs old and lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which impacts his ability to focus, follow instructions and ultimately try new experiences.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that is caused by differences in the brain and can cause problems with social communication and interaction which leads to restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving or paying attention to their peers.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that leads to restlessness and trouble concentrating, a short attention span, constant fidgeting and acting without thinking. These two disorders teamed together make learning and achieving progress in new tasks quite a challenge for my son, so when I heard about the benefits of ballroom dancing for special needs children I couldn’t wait to book him in for a one-to-one dance lesson with Strictly Come Dancing star Kristina Rihanoff.
Kristina has over 25 years of teaching experience and loves working with children and young adults to improve their social skills, boost confidence and promote self-expression. Her performing arts academy “Bespoke Ballroom” offers dancing and drama lessons to all ages from babies to young adults to which she imparts her extensive knowledge of ballroom techniques and stage presence.
Gabriele has never had a dance lesson before and has never shown an interest in dance or music so I knew that this would be an entirely new experience for him. He is fanatical about mathematics and has a very sharp and engaged mind in areas that are of interest to him such as video games, times tables and swimming – all of which are a prominent and repetitive routine in his life.
However he struggles to take interest or have enthusiasm in any topic or experience which doesn’t wholeheartedly appeal to him. His main stumbling block is listening to, understanding and following simple instructions as he is easily distracted and often disinterested which makes group settings and classrooms a very challenging environment for progress.
Dance increases balance, improves resistance and cardiovascular health, burns calories and reduces stress which is extremely beneficial to the immune system at any age; this one-on-one ballroom lesson is particularly stimulating for children with special needs because they have Kristina’s full attention and can move at their own pace to experience, and celebrate, success.
I am astounded by how quickly my son was able to adapt to and learn key choreography steps in just one lesson as Kristina taught him the Cha Cha Cha – progress that he has never made in any other area or aspect of life so quickly and successfully as he did today. I felt a lump in my throat the entire time that I watched him as he initially stumbled to pick up the beat and movements before finding his flow and moving in time to the music thanks to Kristina’s expert guidance, warm nature and kind-hearted encouragement throughout.
As a mother it was so heart-waring to see Gabriele flourish as he kept his eyes on Kristina continuously, meticulously watching each move in the mirror, making eye contact throughout, listening intently and even suggesting dance requests as he challenged Kristina to do the macarena dance with him from one of this favourite video games – leading to a lot of giggles which fuelled his enthusiasm.
Kristina gave Gabriele the confidence and support to try something entirely new and flourish in his new abilities whilst building self-esteem. I didn’t think it was possible for anybody he had never met before to engage him so thoroughly in something entirely new that didn’t involve technology and wasn’t already familiar to him.
Gabriele was able to listen to, process and follow step-by-step instructions through choreography and Kristina’s amazing teaching ability, which is a life skill that he majorly struggles with at school, and I hope may now transition into our home as well as his education.
To see him so engaged, eager to progress and proud of his achievements was absolutely priceless and so encouraging when it comes to trying new things in future. It goes to show how important one-on-one interactions like these are for special needs children and I really hope that in sharing Gabriele’s progress in his first dance lesson that we might be able to raise awareness for other children living with ASD and ADHD to try something new.