Five Year ABA Student Plays Cello in Jr Symphony!
By Christina Swanson
When the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra (JSYO) plays its first concert of the season in November, one of Great Strides youngsters will be performing at their first concert, too, as part of the Foundations Strings ensemble. At only eight years old, Kile Keene is another Great Stride super hero demonstrating how consistent hard work by “Team Kile” — his therapists and music teacher — can make all the difference in achieving developmental milestones.
Mary Westwood, Kile’s behavior therapist, has been working with Kile, both at his school and at the GS clinic, since he was three years old. This special relationship began when Kile first attended a special needs pre-kindergarten class at a private school. Westwood worked with Kile, a caring youngster with autism, helping him learn basic behavioral skills so he could eventually start attending his neighborhood’s public school, Hickory Creek Elementary, by the time he entered the first grade.
“Mary has been instrumental in integrating Kile into a classroom setting and his being able to go to public school,” said Windy Keene, Kile’s mom. “She instructs Kile on many skills, including social and academic, both with his teacher in the classroom and at the GS clinic, provides input to Kile’s IEP goals, and attends IEP meetings with me, all helping Kile to be successful.”
As Kile advances in such behaviors as interacting with his peers, Westwood has less classroom involvement in now his third grade year. She checks on him during recess, and works at the clinic with him for four hours per week, some of that one-on-one promoting motor planning skills to help the body and brain to work together in breaking down the steps involved in accomplishing specific tasks. Along with Westwood, Team Kile also includes Great Strides occupational, speech and physical therapists who help build upon his skills and accomplishments.
When Kile was three years old, his mom discovered he has a perfect pitch so they started him on piano lessons at the Orchard Kingdom. This was no easy task due to children on the autism spectrum having motor difficulties (where, in this case, the brain doesn’t cooperate in telling his fingers to press the right keys) involving more hands-on by both Westwood and mom.
Two years ago, Kile chose to add learning how to play the cello, diligently taking both piano and cello lessons several times a week. This has meant additional challenges in motor skills with Westwood working on such activities as how to pack and unpack his cello bag. When Kile’s cello teacher suggested him trying out for the JSYO this summer, he also worked with Kile on musical expectation for tryouts so he’d be ready.
String instruments are said to be the most difficult of musical instruments to learn and as mom noted, “It takes a lot for his brain to compute for even something as seemingly simple as holding the instrument.” If you google “learning to play the cello” you’ll learn that many accomplished musicians state that the cello is as “very hard to play as it is very easy to be out of tune” because the Cello has a very long fingerboard. This means it takes lots of practice to learn to find the right spot while requiring the player to focus both arms on the correct bowing and fingering, and requires learning to read music for the only instrument that uses three clefs — bass, treble, and tenor.
So, choosing to play the cello and winning a spot on the JSYO are no small feats! Kile and the JSYO’s first season performance is the Fall Concert on November 19 at the Jacoby Symphony Hall of the Florida Times Union Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Jacksonville.
Another huge accomplishment for Kile this summer was learning how to independently ride his bike. Kile’s GS physical therapist since he was four, John Kirkland, had been working with Kile for many months on balancing on his bike without training wheels and felt an added “push” might be just the boost Kile needed to make it happen. So, Kirkland suggested Kile attend “iCan Bike,” a bike camp for special needs children affiliated with the international nonprofit “iCan Shine.” This year, the five-day camp was offered in Florida in Orlando the first week of August, and was the perfect boost Kile needed to start riding independently and work on his social skills with new friends.
“Through the therapies at Great Strides, Kile is opening up and more willing to interact with his peers, in large part to his GS social skills group where they learn to listen and respond appropriately to peer interaction,” explained Keene.
“This has been a wonderful year of learning for Kile as he has been able to make friends and invite classmates over to ride bikes and swim together,” said Keene. “I am thankful to be around such great people and a talented team of therapists who are constantly on board promoting “Team Kile” — he’s a great kid who works very hard.”
— Here’s More About iCan Bike Camp
iCan Bike camp is a part of the international nonprofit iCan Shine that collaborates with area organizations to provide 100, five-day iCan Bike camps throughout the US and Canada each year. Their goal is to help children with disabilities (specifically geared to Down syndrome and autism) experience the joy of independently riding a conventional two-wheel bike.
For more information about the next bike camp in Florida, contact Camille Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 407-760-9395.