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CSMA classes serve developmentally disabled, autistic students


Photo By: Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Photo Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier

Kyle Sofman, right, accompanies Molly, who grew up in Los Altos, during a class at the Community School of Music and Arts. Donations enable people with autism and developmental disabilities to take CSMA’s music and art classes at no charge.

Jangling musical shakers and smacking mallets on marimbas, students act out a love for rhythm and noise in the Artistic Intelligence Program at the Community School of Music and Arts. The racket they raise, though, has special meaning. For many of the autistic and developmentally disabled participants, sensory experience brings special challenges – and opportunities for success.

“A lot of them come here with issues about being out in the world and the kind of input they have to deal with,” said Linda Covello, director of CSMA’s art school, who explained that the music classroom in Mountain View is “a safe environment where they can react to crazy sounds and different materials.”

The program provides art and music classes for approximately 50 teens and adults who live on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. Students come from the Morgan Autism Center (based in San Jose, formerly in Los Altos), Abilities United (Palo Alto) and AchieveKids (Palo Alto and San Jose). They participate in the classes at no charge, thanks to fundraising by CSMA and partner organizations.

On a recent afternoon, students from AchieveKids and the Morgan Autism Center crooned “What a Wonderful World,” matching illustrations of skies of blue and trees of green to the lyrics as they went. The music class provided a venue for different groups to work together. Covello said CSMA sees the arts as an opportunity to practice the interaction and communication that go into teaming up on a musical piece.

One student who grew up in Los Altos, Molly, jumped up to help lead the class every time she had an opportunity to join teacher Kyle Sofman at the front of the room. Molly provided a one-woman rhythm section as backup for Sofman’s zither, later wielding the lyric cheat-sheet for “Do-Re-Mi.” Molly’s gleeful interest in the musical process reflects the program’s aim to provide a friendly, comfortable place for learning new tunes and showing off one’s choral initiative.

“They get to mix with a larger population,” Covello said. “Much of their world is one-on-one or small group. The social experience (at CSMA) is almost as important as the music and art.”

Covello has watched students move from initial stress from the unfamiliar setting and materials of CSMA’s art class to an excited response. Engaging in the artistic process, practicing self-expression and working with new media give students an outlet worth celebrating, she said.

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