Tap Dancing Therapy

By Therese Smith Cox, Daily Mail Health

Sporting top hat, tails and a red rose boutonniere, Michael
McDonough tapped and twirled for his fellow students at Kanawha City Elementary School.

After “The Sunny Side of the Street” song ordered his steps to dart
and click for four minutes, the audience smiled, whistled and clapped

Michael, 11, then winked at his friends, thrust his right thumb high
and bowed graciously.

His long-rehearsed number, along with 17 other acts, helped the
children celebrate the last day of school Monday.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Rose McDonough, not a family relation
but his tap dance teacher at RM Productions, a studio she owns and

She danced the duet with Michael Monday.

Michael has autism — a neurological disorder shared by as many as
1.5 million Americans. He has difficulties with communication and social

But tap dancing has helped Michael in a surprising number of ways.
He’s learned how to think in patterns, remember sequences, adapt to
the limelight and feel comfortable performing.

“Absolutely, it has helped him,” McDonough said. “It helps
communications-wise. It has improved a whole, whole lot. He’s able to
express himself with more confidence.”

McDonough, who administers arts grants for the state, said dancing
works well as a form of therapy for people with developmental

A former Shawnee Hills “Creative Expressions” instructor, she’d like to
see more participation in such programs in West Virginia.
“It really helps open them up,” she said. “Dance is another form of

Michael started taking tap lessons a year ago. But like most kids,
he had a love-hate relationship with the demands of discipline, said his
father, Steve McDonough. Carrie Green of the Autism Services Center took
the classes with him and even performed on stage with him for his June 1

But after taking a few classes, watching videos of past recitals and
examining costume books, Michael’s interest blossomed. After fitting for the rented tux, Michael asked if a big, black car would be calling for him, said his mother, Teresa McDonough. He also wondered if the recital audience would carry signs with his name on them.

Michael also enjoys the computer, reading, video games, swimming and
spelling bees.

His autism mentor, Jeanette Higginbotham, accompanies him to Rhonda
Perry’s fourth-grade classroom during school, to help direct Michael and
keep him on track. Itinerant teacher Betsy Fleshman helps round out his

Earlier this month, Michael portrayed Rumpelstiltskin for a class play.

“He was very good,” Perry said.

Michael’s mother gives credit for his relatively high degree of functioning to intense work since his diagnosis at age 2 1/2. But it helps that he’s a bit of a ham.
“When he does a class play, he’s very dramatic,” she said. “He makes up stories. And he always does voice animations.”

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