My name is Alison, and my husband is Tom Petersson, founding member and bass player of the rock group Cheap Trick. We have created Rock Your Speech, a music project inspired by our sweet little 7 year old boy Liam, who is working hard to overcome a speech disorder associated with autism spectrum disorder. After years of doing intensive speech therapy with Liam, we had the idea to incorporate speech and language lessons into rock music. Our mission is to inspire kids of all ages to find their voices through music.
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?”
As our project evolved, we decided to make lyric music videos. Lyrics appear on screen in real time, helping the kids to sing along and learn reading skills. We used images that reinforce the language and show close ups of the singers mouths to help learn the mechanics of how the speech sounds are made. We also feature kids playing music and singing along with the adults.
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that is marked by impairments in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. 1 in 68 children American children are on the autism spectrum. It affects over 2 million in the US and tens of millions worldwide. There is no cure. The best shot we have today at treating it is through intensive early intervention with speech therapy, occupation therapy, physical therapy and behavior therapy. The challenges are huge as we as a community try to find ways to help families learn how to help their kids do the best they can. It takes a lot of work. These families need community and support. Older kids with autism often have trouble making friends and can become isolated. Adults with autism face in tougher challenges. Many cannot live independently and need group housing. The unemployment rate for autistic adults is 90%. It is an epidemic that needs more attention in so many areas. Music therapy is a new area of interest, as people are starting to recognize its benefits for people with autism.
We are looking forward to sharing our story and our project with the world. I hope that by doing it we will be able to help some families and give parents a way to have fun and practice speech and language skills with their kids. We also hope to help people better understand this complex thing that is called Autism Spectrum Disorder.