Inspired by an autistic sister Sasha Brathwaite has created a unique program using drumming and movement.
By Ron Sandison
Sasha Brathwaite, founder of Let’s Jam Percussive & Creative Movement Program has contributed to her community for years through her therapeutic, music-based program for individuals with disabilities including those on the autism spectrum. She teaches children and adults essential life lessons through music. Sasha’s program promotes sensory experiences and fosters creativity, inclusion, relaxation, social skills and self-confidence. Let’s Jam has served over thirty institutions including schools and non-profit organizations. I had the pleasure to interview her and share her amazing story.
1. What inspired you to create Let’s Jam?
I was inspired by my sister who has autism and is non-verbal. When drumming with my sister at home, I observed significant positive changes in her focus, self-awareness, and overall behavior. As a result, I had a desire to share her musical talents for outreach use to help others with special needs.
I discovered there was a great need for recreational programs that served all age groups particularly adults with developmental challenges. I wanted to build a safe and inclusive environment where individuals of all abilities can express themselves freely through music instrumentation and movement.
2. How does Let’s Jam help individuals with autism?
Let’s Jam is tailored to meet the needs of individuals with autism. It uses a strength-based approach where people can focus on the areas in which they excel while developing and improving areas of need. It provides a therapeutic experience for individual to freely express his or her emotions through music in a safe and friendly space. It is interactive and focuses on team building, improvisation skills in playing various percussion instruments, and creative movement.
Let’s Jam provides a sensory experience while working to encourage self-awareness, facilitate behavioral management (regulating + behavior), social skills, enhance relaxation, and build self-confidence in a non intimidating environment. It strives to bridge gaps in communities while individuals with autism can connect with each other and sense belonging in a non judgmental setting. Some group services offered include: Adapted based programs for parent and child, siblings, toddlers, children, youth and adults.
3. What are some skills Let’s Jam teaches children?
Let’s Jam teaches children with special needs and autism a variety of skills both in the music instrumentation and creative movement component. Turn-taking skills is often a challenge for them for various reasons. Let’s Jam helps them work on this through modeling, verbal prompts and repetition. Also, they learn to improve social skills with others where they can observe their peers participation in a group setting. We sing songs about feelings.
Each individual has an opportunity to either verbalize their feelings or for those that are non-verbal they are encouraged to express themselves with an action or playing an instrument and movement. Over time they learn to follow direction and improve their level of comfort. Children with autism and special needs strengthen their gross motor skills and creativity.
4. What are some ways music helps children with autism?
Music helps children with autism improve social behaviors, learn social interactions, manage emotions, develop communication, provide relaxation and calms anxiety.
5. What are some of the greatest challenges for children with autism?
Children with autism have difficulty communicating wants and needs with others, sensory sensitivity, limited attention span, social interaction and anxiety. Let’s Jam often comes across these kinds of needs and we work closely with our clients to support them the best way possible for example: breaks, smaller groups, 1:1 support for those who need it.
6. What are some of your future goals for Let’s Jam?
Let’s Jam will have a permanent and accessible space in Toronto to meet our clients needs. In addition, an ultimate goal for this program would be for it to reach a provincial level of promoting inclusion and the unique strengths of individuals with autism. In the province of Ontario there is still a lack of understanding and sensitivity in acknowledging the challenges of individuals with special needs, particularly those with developmental disorders. Many programs and services available have an age restriction which limits their options when they reach 18 years old.
Ontario is enriched with various cultural and ethnic backgrounds that continue to be honored and celebrated. However, there is great need to promote acceptance for those with disabilities. Our message can penetrate and help to transform stigmas.
7. Please share a personal story.
“Sasha, Founder of Let’s Jam Percussive & Creative Movement Program has contributed to her community for years through her therapeutic, music-based program for individuals with disabilities called Let’s Jam Percussive and Creative Movement Program. Her lived experience of being a sibling to someone who has a disability brings so much to her work, and allows all participants to express their emotions freely through music. Our organization, Hand Over Hand, for individuals 15-30 who have disabilities, has done multiple events with Sasha through Let’s Jam because she simply provides a safe and accessible space for our members. She has also done some of those events free of charge to remove financial barriers. Access is a top priority, and you can tell that Sasha is passionate about her work and making sure that everyone feels welcome. Her program promotes sensory experiences and fosters creativity, inclusion, relaxation, social skills and self-confidence. This is quite a feat since many of our members with disabilities face systemic, institutional barriers on a regular basis. Sasha deserves to be recognized for the care and dedication she has to this field and the local community is better for having her in it! Let’s Jam is truly an amazing program!!” Melissa Ngo- Co Founder/Director of Hand Over Hand
“Sasha facilitated a music session at the Centre for Dreams. It was a fun and interactive experience. She brought all sorts of interesting instruments for the members to try out. This music session was effective in teaching our members the importance of team building as well as appropriate ways to express emotions and behaviours. This was achieved through Sasha’s unique activities and optimistic personality. A big thank you to Sasha and Lets Jam for a fun morning.” Rabia M- Support Staff at the Centre for Dreams
8. How can people get involved and help Let’s Jam?
Let’s Jam accepts support on a volunteer basis for various community events. For registration or other inquiries please email: Sasha Brathwaite, Founder, Program Director/Facilitator firstname.lastname@example.org
9. Is anything else you like to share?
We have had over 30 events—a lists of some of the locations: Toronto District School Board, York Catholic District School Board, York District School Board, Community Living York South, Community Living Toronto, Hand Over Hand, Meta Centre- Woodbridge, Meta Centre-Scarbrough, Canadian National Autism Foundation, The Centre For Dreams, Extend- A- Family Toronto, Autism Ontario, Autism Therapy & Training, Imagine Autism Foundation, Challengers Day Program, Ontario Camp Association, City of Markham, Children’s Treatment Network, Kerry’s Place Autism Services
Sasha Brathwaite received “The Faces of Change Award” by Voodoo Arts & Entertainment in 2016 and the “Women Achiever Award 2017” by Dancing Damsels Inc. for her efforts to promote inclusivity in the community through her music program.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at email@example.com