Miracles at Cherokee Day Camp – How I was able to connect with autistic kids through music.
“What was your best DJ experience ever?”
I’m asked this question quite often. The first time I was asked it I thought to myself, “I’ve DJ’d thousands of events in my career; weddings, corporate galas, after parties, sporting events, birthday parties, fashion shows. How could I possibly choose one best experience?” Then I remembered “the one.” My best DJ experience happened at a very small venue called Cherokee Day Camp. Through music, I was able to connect with a group of autistic children (DJ’ing next to Kevin Bacon came in second)(Autism resources below).
Years ago, before I went full time as a DJ, every Friday afternoon I would show up with my DJ gear ready to play for Cherokee’s weekly, kids’ pool party. It was always a great day! As I would arrive the kids would all start yelling, “DeeJay Shelly’s here! DeeJay Shelly’s here! Hey DJ!” Then, they would run up to me and give me hugs. (This is when I knew I hit celebrity status).
As the interactive DJ that I am, I would keep them very busy for the entire two hours. We would sing, dance, play with hula hoops, hold dance contests, water balloon toss and all kinds of fun group activities. Seeing the kids having so much fun would make me smile the entire weekend.
One week, there was a group of children visiting the camp. I was pre-informed that the children were autistic. The counselors explained that these children would stay in their own group. However, they were hoping the children would want to enjoy the music and dancing as well.
At first, they wouldn’t come near me. However, I could see them moving side to side like they were “feeling the music”. If you’ve worked with, or know, children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome, they have a difficulty with social interactions. I knew this was going to be a bit of a challenge. I walked over to them and asked them to dance with me. They immediately withdrew. I tried finding out if they liked music and if anyone had a favorite song. No response. It was as if I didn’t exist. Normally being the life of the party, you can understand what I blow to my ego this was.
I attempted a different approach. Come on – a great DJ never gives up that easy! I went back to my DJ decks where I stood by myself. I didn’t look at them. I kept focused on the music. What I did do was start to push buttons and make special effects on my DJ controller. Next, I played lip sync with my microphone and started dancing. Boy, did this spark their interest! Next thing you know, they are all around me. Completely intrigued by my DJ controller and microphone, they started to sing and dance. They seemed amazed that the music was coming from my equipment and they LOVED it. By the end of the day they were rock stars! I had made it happen. Even though we may not have been able to verbally communicate with each other, we could communicate smiles, laughter, songs and dance through music.
We only had a very short time together, but this was hands down my best DJ experience ever.
For more information about Autism or Asperger Syndrome, you can visit:
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