For 25 years, music has been a passion for guitarist and songwriter Dave Meyers who lives near Carmel, N.Y. But more recently, Meyers has been sharing that passion with autistic and other special needs children, and it has made a big impact on their lives – and his own.
It was a friend’s son, 12-year-old Eric, who became his first student who had autism, and now Meyers works with many students of varying ages, traveling to their homes in Putnam and Westchester Counties for music and guitar lessons once a week.
Following their lessons, Meyers says he’s noticed a looseness in the way Eric responds. “I’ve seen when he’s involved in music, and sometimes when he’s not, he’s able to connect with thoughtful responses. Sometimes those thoughtful responses are funny and silly, but for Eric, that’s a big step, he’s communicating as opposed to being just reclusive. We’ve really made accomplishments.”
Meyers has written dozens of original, fun songs that are easy to play, some inspired by his students. He shared one song entitled “What to Do (Play Guitar)” with lyrics such as, “I want to shout/The power is out/But there’s no one here to shout to. It feels so strange/No lights no games/Oh what am I going to do?/Play my guitar, I can play my guitar.”
Meyers says Eric relates to the feelings and the words of the song, but it’s also a composition that he only needs one finger to play. “That’s how my songs are designed. You don’t have to have complicated fingering or a lot of changes,” he explains. “They’re made so that kids can get confident.”
How does Meyers elicit these types of responses? By letting his students guide him. While Meyers is not a licensed music therapist or special needs teacher (his day job is in real estate), he has done a lot of research on music therapy and its benefits. Meyers’ lessons consist of different types of songs and various instruments, including guitar, piano and drums.
“I’ve found that special needs children can benefit from music lessons because there are aspects of music that seem to be innate in a person,” Meyers says. “There’s something about the musical patterns that these children are able to connect to and once they’re connected, we can use that connection to provide other social and physical benefits.”
Anthony, a 5-year-old from Armonk with cerebral palsy with global delays, started lessons with Meyers in the spring. Anthony’s mom, Sara, feels her son’s sessions are certainly making a difference. “Dave provides positive reinforcement, reward systems and a calming experience for my son – three important things that children with special needs must have,” Sara says. “Because of this, my son is receptive, focused and really learning the guitar! Most importantly, of all the limitations and challenges that my son faces, he has a hobby that he can enjoy independently.”
Same goes for 9-year-old Lindsay of Patterson. Her mom, Sandi, says her daughter couldn’t sit still when she began the music lessons six months ago, but now she can sit the entire time. “The lessons with Dave have benefited my daughter by promoting increased eye contact, joint attention, active participation and creativity,” she says. “These benefits mean more to me than if she ever learns to play an instrument or not.” Sandi adds that the silly songs keep things fun. And if Lindsay isn’t focusing, Meyers will take a break and march around the kitchen with her, instruments in hand, singing songs.
“You start playing and in that musical space, each time we make up a word or we make up something, they’re able to sense that, because music certainly reaches across cultures, time and language,” Meyers explains.
Meyers says he is looking forward to helping more special needs students, crafting more songs and watching these children grow and blossom. “I’m here to get them enthused, get them interested in music and try to connect with them,” he says. “I’m really inspired by the things that we are accomplishing using music. Hopefully they can take it with them as they grow up.”
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Andrea White is a freelance writer based in Edgemont.
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