How music helped this nurse and her son with ASD communicate again

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Danielle Filippone (center) with her son, Eric (left, and daughter (right). Image courtesy Danielle Filippone
  • A nurse who appeared on America’s Got Talent learned how to use singing to communicate with her son who lives with autism spectrum disorder.
  • Autism spectrum disorders can affect a child’s ability to communicate.
  • Studies show the benefits of using music to communicate.

Until she was 18 months old, Danielle Filippone’s son, Eric, called her “mom”.

“He started regressing all of a sudden and I couldn’t stay focused and couldn’t even get him to respond to his name. I felt like nothing was working. I was frustrated “Filippone told Healthline.

She began to understand that her son’s experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) could impact his ability to communicate and express himself.

In fact, Parker L. Huston, PhD, pediatric psychologist and owner of Central Ohio Pediatric Behavioral Health said the level at which ASD affects individuals varies widely, as does the impact on communication.

“Some people diagnosed with ASD can communicate well and have an extensive vocabulary, while others have no verbal communication at all,” he told Healthline.

For Filippone, a meeting in the family kitchen brought hope. Eric was trying to get his mother’s attention by growling.

“He forgot how to point; he had no kind of body language. I couldn’t figure out if he wanted something on the counter,” Filippone said.

She started picking things up and asking if that was what he wanted. “We both broke down crying in frustration because we couldn’t understand each other,” she said.

To calm herself, she began to hum, which caused Eric to look at her.

“It was an epiphany. The way he looked at me, he realized that I was a mum and that I was there to help him, and that allowed him to focus on me enough that I could show him the things on the counter until he sees the water he wanted, and he kindly leans forward, which expressed that [water was] whatever he wanted,” Filippone said.

From then on, she made songs for everything they did around the house, including mealtime, bathtime, playtime and bedtime so Eric know what to expect. By the time Eric was 3, he started saying “Mom” again.

“It was one of the best days of my life to hear him say again. Then from that point on he started saying more and more words,” she said.

The relationship between ASDs and music is old, Huston said. He highlighted a 2018 study which demonstrated that 8 to 12 weeks of music intervention can improve parent-reported social communication.

“Researchers hypothesize that music helps strengthen connections between auditory, linguistic and motor regions of the brain, which are involved in communication,” Huston said.

Kevin Ayres, PhD, co-director of the Center for Autism Research and Behavioral Education at the University of Georgia, said patterns and repetition in music can help people with autism better understand back-and-forth. comes from a conversation.

“Songs can model proper diction and are often easy to remember, especially children’s songs,” he told Healthline.

Ayres also said training in the natural environment, like modeling language, and making learning to communicate fun can help parents communicate with their children.

This turned out to be true for Eric. Today, he is 8 years old and still uses music to communicate and learn.

“We have fun together now composing songs. We play a rhyming game where we make up a song and try to make words rhyme because he’s learning to rhyme in school,” Filippone said.

Sometimes Eric even sings his mother a song to fall asleep.

Northwell Health Nurses Choir.Share on Pinterest
Danielle Filippone with the rest of the Northwell Health Nurse Choir on stage at “America’s Got Talent”. Image provided by Danielle Filippone

Filippone’s grandmother was an Off-Broadway opera singer in the 1940s and 1950s, a time when she performed Madama Butterfly. Although she never got to see her grandmother perform, she listened to her sing on records. Moreover, his mother was also a singer.

“So singing has always been part of the house… I learned a lot from them both,” she Filippone says.

She performed in her elementary school choir and in high school musicals. Although she always wanted to sing professionally, she felt an attraction to becoming a nurse. Now in his 13e year as a registered nurse, Filippone works at Stanton Island Hospital in the operating room.

In 2020, her love for singing and nursing came to fruition when Northwell Health in New York City called for frontline nurses to audition for its virtual Northwell Health Nurse Choir. The choir was formed to spread a message of hope and perseverance during COVID-19.

“I thought singing was so good and being in the middle of COVID, not being able to recognize my face behind the mask, I needed something to cheer me up,” Filippone said.

With her mother’s encouragement, she sent a 30-second clip of her singing to the audition. To his delight, she was one of 50 nurses selected to join the choir.

Their first performance was on Nurse Heroes Live, which premiered on NBC Peacock Thanksgiving 2020. It has been viewed by over 10 million households to date. The video caught the attention of America’s Got Talent, who encouraged the choir to give it a try. However, Northwell only sent 18 nurses to the show for her audition. After sending another singing clip, Filippone made the cut.

“I was totally shocked and felt like I had hit the lottery,” she said.

In June 2021, the choir performed on the show and received the Golden Buzzer from Judge Howie Mandel. They finally made it to the season 16 finale.

“Seeing my kids watching TV and saying ‘it’s mommy’ reignited the fire in me,” Filippone said.

The band went on to perform at the White House, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and Broadway. They have also made appearances at Time’s Person of the Year awards, the “Today” show, the ANA/ANCC Magnet Pathway conference, as well as “Live with Kelly and Ryan” and numerous professional sporting events.

Filippone also sings for the patients she cares for and has been dubbed “the singing nurse” by her colleagues. She even takes song requests during patient stays in the hospital.

“I see patients when they’ve already been assessed and they’re in their gowns and sitting there trying to cover up and feeling vulnerable… I sing to them while they’re anesthetized,” she said. .

She says singing helps patients feel more at ease and makes them feel like they are together.

She particularly channels her singing talents when working with pediatric patients who have special needs and sensory issues.

“I would ask parents what shows they liked and I would start singing a song from the show and they would see their kids would focus on me and I would tell them I have an autistic son and that helps,” he said. Filippo.

Combining her singing, parenting and nursing skills is something she never thought possible.

“I felt like I had to put music and singing aside in a closet somewhere, but I don’t have to anymore. I can do the two things I love while being a mom to an amazing boy and girl,” she said.

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