How a Cheap Trick Rocker’s Music Is Helping Kids With Autism

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Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson and his wife Alison founded the Rock Your Speech Project to help autistic kids through music.

My 8-year-old son is a smart, kind, non-verbal autistic child who struggles mightily to express what he’s thinking. It hurts my heart to see him grow increasingly frustrated as he attempts speech or typing, but due to motor skills, sensory overload, or other processing problems, he can’t ask for simple things much less express his complex thoughts and feelings. Like many other parents of autistic kids, my husband and I have tried all sorts of methods—sign language, picture cards, iPad apps with picture icons, video speech programs, speech therapy, and RPM, all to varying degrees of success. We’re still looking for the right fit for my son, but I was really excited when I heard about rocker Tom Petersson (the bassist for the band Cheap Trick) and his wife Alison’s project to help kids “find their voices through music.”

The project is called Rock Your Speech, and it’s a CD and video program that has helped the Petersson’s 7-year-old autistic son (who’s named Liam, like my son) start to speak. The way it works is simple—according to their website: “Rock Your Speech uses songs and lyric videos to build language skills in children with autism. [The music includes] useful phrases and sounds, such as “I’m hungry,” “What’s your name” or “I don’t feel good.” Repetition techniques teach language simply and literally, and since it’s truly rock and roll, the music appeals to all ages.”

It’s so simple, yet so brilliant! My son loves music, and he would listen to the same videos on repeat all day if we let him. As such, I think “Rock Your Speech” will really appeal to him, and I was pleased to see the many testimonials from music and occupational therapists who have used it to great success with their clients.

I also love this story about the Petersson’s son: “As a toddler, Liam was fascinated with computers, electronics and music. He learned to navigate iTunes, and we saw what a huge motivation music was for him. He learned his first words from listening to his favorite songs. When we saw that music encouraged him to vocalize, we started brainstorming how we could use it to help him learn to speak. I started to keep a journal about all the things I wanted Liam to learn to talk to us about – basic things like “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired”, or “I don’t feel good.” We incorporated these themes into rock songs that don’t sound child like, but teach language in a very simplified and literal way. We wanted to use just enough words and lots of repetition, just like we do in speech therapy. One of the first songs we recorded was “What’s Your Name,” and an amazing thing happened. Liam started to ask everyone he saw, ‘What’s your name?'”

So, with all that in mind, I just had one question—how was the music? I admit I can only listen to kids music for so long, but after listening to samples of the Rock Your Speech songs, I’m happy to report the songs are both catchy and cool. Whew! This is music that my kids will like and that my husband and I will enjoy too. So, we’re going to give it a try. I’ll keep you posted on results, but hopefully, this will help my son enjoy some music and get closer to finding his voice.

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