A place of hope
Established by a parent of a child with shaken-baby syndrome, The International Academy of Hope (‘iHOPE’) is a beautiful school with dedicated staff and delightful pupils. It represents the hope that children with acquired or birth brain disorders can still lead fulfilling lives.
According to their website, iHOPE educates children “who cannot be served in their local school systems”. Parents pay to attend and then sue the Government for the cost of their fees, arguing that the State failed to provide a suitable education for their child.
Most of the school’s 44 children and young adults have multiple disabilities and communicate without speech. My visit was arranged by Michelle Lowry, Regional Consultant for Tobii Dynavox, which supplies communication apps, speech generating devices and eye trackers around the world. Tobii Dynavox sponsored The Music Man Project’s Royal Albert Hall concert which featured their most famous UK user, our very own Madi. She used her device to perform a solo in front of 3000 people. Tobii gave her a voice and we gave her a platform to shine.
The staff showed me a small selection of Adaptive Musical Instruments. I feared they would be brightly coloured toys, something I had refused to contemplate in the UK. “Nothing beats the sight and sound of real instruments played live”, I would insist. “The playing technique must be the same as the mainstream to show they can do it!”. I’d finish with, “Compare how you would feel if I had a £1000 full-size drum kit and you were given a baby device that flashes pink!” I was here on a Fellowship to learn so I kept my thoughts to myself.
They weren’t pink toys at all! They were mechanisms that could be attached to standard instruments, enabling more people to play them. This was no different to Madi speaking through her Tobii! I felt guilt for the hundreds of times my students with multiple disabilities were excluded from our performances because of my presumption. This technology enables them to access my music by gently touching a switch to hit a drum, shake a tambourine or strike a triangle independently.
There are 13 Speech Therapists at iHOPE, along with several Physical Therapists, Hearing Therapists, Occupational Therapists and others. Their multi-sensory approach with intensive therapeutic services allows the children to have more “hands-on” experiences. Compare this with 30 minutes a week or in some case once a year support from therapists in Department of Education schools and you can understand why parents choose iHOPE.
School Director, Karen Tumulty, will collect data in the New Year to judge the impact of her approach. As well as the usual curriculum achievements, she will include the number of stays in hospital this year compared to last, reliance on medication and other measures of well-being. We enthusiastically agreed on the value of Arts Education to prevent negative health outcomes before they happen rather than treating them afterwards. Our respective research (hers in school and mine at the Royal College of Music by MMP Director, Natalie Bradford) will provide empirical research to support our theories.
On my way out I read this sign on the wall which filled me with hope.