If children are not introduced to making music at an early age, I believe something fundamental is actually being taken from them.
Over the last decade, autism awareness has increased in prevalence. As a result we have adapted our innovative Children's Opera Theatre program to be even more inclusive! We have created a friendly, calm and supportive environment for audience members with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Asperger’s syndrome, Down syndrome and those with sensory differences. In order to create a more accessible environment, some elements of the production have been modified to reduce anxiety or stress. For example, the house lights do not move up and down, doors remain open, and singers’ sound levels are adjusted. Making noise, eating snacks and moving around is welcome. Children can also leave the space to take a break. Noise canceling headphones, color pages, and a designated quiet area are available.
Creation of Relaxed Performances
Creating a more inclusive Children's Opera Theatre program is no easy task. To ensure we are sensitive to the needs of our young patrons, we partnered with some local experts to guide the creation of the program.
Debra Naff Dacus, MA, MT-BC
Music Therapist - Board Certified, Private Practitioner, Adjunct Professor - Texas Woman's University, Department of Music Therapy
Jerri Stage, Licensed Occupational Therapist, Birdville ISD
We are also working on a partnership with My Health My Resources of Tarrant County to further guide the direction of the Relaxed Performance program.
Benefits of Music
Everyone responds to music; it nurtures every part of us, makes us happy, makes us sad, excites us, calms us, and enables us to access our emotions in a healthy way.
Other benefits music-making can bring are:
• SOCIAL SKILLS - music-making encourages sharing, turn-taking, communicating and
ultimately boosts children's confidence
• LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT - songs are sung at a slower pace than speech often with
much word repetition, facilitating language development
• LISTENING SKILLS - in this busy world just stopping and listening is hugely beneficial,
developing concentration and encouraging creativity and imagination
• MOTOR SKILLS - the child's response to music through movement helps develop coordination
• MATH SKILLS - music is one of the first ways children experience math
Cast members from the Children's Opera Theatre show Three Pigs Remix, 2019.
The Fort Worth Opera does not want anyone to be excluded from the unique musical experiences opera can afford. I applaud them in their efforts to include the entire young Fort Worth Community by providing these expanded offerings.
-Debra Dacus, MA, MT-BC
My 12 year-old is on the autism spectrum, and we are so pleased that the Fort Worth Opera is giving youth like him an opportunity to enjoy this musical experience in a comfortable and accepting environment.
-Stephanie PB - Relaxed Performance Attendee and Mom
For over 20 years, Debbie Dacus, MA, MT-BC traveled throughout the U.S. as a professional singer. During her travels, a trip to the library uncovered a book by a British woman, Juliet Alvin. Music Therapy for the Autistic Child, first published in 1978, was the first book of its kind to analyze the effects of music therapy on the development of children with autism. And it changed Debbie’s career trajectory.
Debbie received her B. S. and M. A. degrees in Music Therapy from Texas Woman’s University. Debbie is currently an adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University and an active clinician. Since 1987, she has enjoyed a private practice, specializing in newborns to young adults with varying intellectual and developmental abilities and those on the autism spectrum. A popular speaker, Debbie has facilitated in-services and workshops throughout the U.S. pertaining to music therapy and its evidence-based uses.
Her publication, Socially Smart: Teaching Social Skills Through Scripts and Songs, co-authored with a speech pathologist, Christie Zatopek Harmon, MS, CCC/SLP is utilized in school districts and college curriculums throughout the U.S. Debbie has co-authored additional music therapy resources, two of them available through Prelude Music Therapy Products.
Debbie is honored to be a part of the Fort Worth Opera’s inclusive programming efforts.
Jerri Stage, OT, has focused her occupational therapy practice on pediatric interventions for the past 40 years in a variety of settings across the metroplex. She strives to stay current in all therapeutic areas impacting children; however, over the last years she has increased her focus on sensory processing differences due to the increased rates of individuals identified with struggles in this area. She has worked with individuals, as well as their families and teachers to identify issues and provide strategies, including those that support participation in the community. She has served students in the public schools, in homes, and in an out-patient clinical setting, including 15 years as an owner/partner in a private therapy clinic in Fort Worth that provided occupational, physical, speech and music therapies. She is currently employed by a local school district.