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Fall 2014 Beat NF Program Another Success!

We had our last session of the fall 2014 Beat NF program yesterday, and I already know I will miss my five little friends next Wednesday morning. Beat NF, a jazz, music therapy program for toddlers with NF Type 1, concluded this morning after six successful weeks. Through the collaborative efforts of Jazz St. Louis, the Washington University Neurofibromatosis (NF) Center, and St. Louis Children’s Hospital (SLCH), a unique play-based therapy group for toddlers has been born. I have worked side by side with our SLCH therapist, Courtney Dunn, PT, DPT, and musicians from Jazz St. Louis and I am amazed at the way we have all evolved both individually and as a group.
A typical Beat NF class is 75 minutes long. We begin with a Hello Song where we greet each friend individually. “Hello Kirsten, how are you today? Hello Kirsten, we sure hope you stay!” Our goal during each class is to assess and help improve the motor skills, balance and coordination of each child. For instance, balancing on one leg or marching while clapping. Another goal has been to work on social skills; look people in the eye when you “shake a hand” or introducing your friend with a clear, confident voice. Some of these skills were easy from week one or two (shake your maracas way up high). Some of these skills have taken weeks to develop (introducing your friend by name was something we worked on during the last session). Because each week builds on the last (with four repeated songs that have new motor challenges), the children could grow in confidence as they mastered a new skill or learned the words to a song. What a success for all involved!
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You might be wondering how motor therapy and jazz music are connected. Jazz music has evolved over many decades citing many different influences, such as blues and ragtime. Jazz music involves a complex blend of syncopation (different rhythms working together) and improvisation (creating music without preparation). We have carefully constructed each set of motor activities to build on the previous week and to help strengthen each individual child’s balance, motor and coordination skills. While we have carefully planned our weekly motor goals, jazz music has allowed each child to improvise, create and explore in a small, safe setting. By the third week, our kids were really proud to show us their skills while working side by side with their peers (who are now friends). It has been a very organic process; the music and the motor work syncing together. Each week we enjoyed a visit from a new jazz artist with a new instrument (along with the consistency of Phil Dunlap of Jazz St. Louis and his piano) which was exciting for all involved. Our visitor answered questions and even let the kids touch their instruments!
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Several families have shared with us how their child is responding to these weekly classes. One parent said the she loves talking to her child in the evening “about what he did and the instruments he got to play”. Another mother shared that her child’s speech therapist noticed a marked improvement in her child’s motor skills after only three weeks of Beat NF. Courtney Dunn, physical therapist, personally worked with each child during the six weeks, and was able to track and measure motor improvements during this session. According to Dunn, “The joy of Beat NF is watching the children develop their gross motor skills while being involved in other activities which push them to a new level that they might not reach during a typical physical therapy session.”
I believe I can speak on behalf of all of my partners in the creation of Beat NF that we can’t wait for the spring 2015 session. We will make adjustments that we feel are necessary and will arrive in the spring with an even more clear direction about the future goals of Beat NF. The children who joined us this fall were happy and excited to spend 75 minutes with us each Wednesday and I simply can’t wait to do it again next year.
For more information about Beat NF, please contact Kirsten Brouillet at
Written by guest blogger, Kirsten Brouillet, Team NF Coordinator.