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Special-needs kids get drum therapy, fun

Three-and-a-half year old Kaitlin Conway, of Kings Park,

Three-and-a-half year old Kaitlin Conway, of Kings Park, participates in a Kids Get Music program for special-needs children in Manhasset. (Jan. 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Ursula Moore

Three-and-a-half-year-old Kaitlin Conway of Kings Park mimics songs in tune and enjoys tapping on the drums. She loves music.

And that is why her parents decided to bring her to the free music/drum therapy workshop for special-needs children held Sunday at the Manhasset-Lakeview Fire Department on Bayview Avenue.

Kaitlin has Down syndrome and her mother, Karen, admitted that it can be difficult to find an activity that Kaitlin likes -- other than music.

“Kaitlin can carry a tune. She doesn’t like it when we listen to the news in the car, she only wants to hear music,” said Karen Conway.

Yaphank’s Chris Marshak, 41, the creator of Kids Get Music, engaged the children, ages 10 and under, in various ways – songs, storytelling, puppets, dancing and playing the drums.

Referring to himself as a “drumologist,” a person who uses drums to make connections with children of all abilities, Marshak understands firsthand the impact music has on children.

“There is power in music. Music can be the means for a child to communicate,” he said.

Marshak has a bachelor's degree in special education and elementary education from Dowling College. He has more than 20 years of experience working with special-needs children.

Sponsored by the Manhasset Special Education PTA, the workshop focuses on the needs of children with Down syndrome, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), language impairment and sensory integration dysfunction.

Helen Weitman, Manhasset SEPTA programming director, is thrilled with the response to the music and drum therapy workshop.

“This is the second year we are doing this, and everyone loves it,” she said. “This workshop allows the kids and the parents to connect.”

As a parent of two special-needs children, Weitman understands the challenges. Her son Matt, 10, has pervasive developmental disorder autism, and her younger son Andrew, 8, has ADHD and sensory integration dysfunction.

“Music was the first connection for us with Matt," Weitman said of son, who attended the program Sunday along with his little brother. "When he watched 'Baby Mozart' or listened to the piano, he would light up. There was a connection with the music.”

The free workshops will be held on Sundays, Jan. 22 and 29 for children up to age 10, and Feb. 12 and 26 for children 11 and older.

To register, email ManhassetSEPTA@gmail.com.

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