Each May at Berkshire Hills Music Academy, we celebrate the accomplishments of the graduates of our Two Year Certificate Program. As we prepare to either welcome graduates into our LIVE (Long Term Independent Vocational Experience) Program or to support them as they transition back home, BHMA staff members take the opportunity to reflect on the significant impact each one has had on our community. As April is Autism Awareness Month, we spent time reflecting on one of our most treasured students, Carly.
Carly, as a student in our Two Year Certificate Program, showed tremendous growth in the area of independent living skills, which will serve her well as she transitions to her next living environment. At BHMA, Carly learned to make in-person transactions at the bank and is now completely independent in using the ATM with an assistive technology application, Pictello. She has learned to navigate the grocery store without staff support, and finds all of her favorite foods each week. Carly has become a wonderful cook, also utilizing Pictello to make a wide variety of recipes by herself. This is a skill that her future roommates will likely appreciate! Carly has also participated in vocational training. As a first year student, she worked diligently at a local animal shelter and food bank. In her second year, Carly excelled in our Music & Human Service program, performing music in local elder care centers.
Carly’s story is all about hearing her voice, both literally and figuratively, in terms of growing as a community member at BHMA. For some individuals on the autism spectrum, communication is one of the areas of challenge. Carly is a talented soprano, as evidenced by the video below, and has a knack for learning melody & harmony, as well as memorizing words to songs. She has consistently awed BHMA audiences in her expression through song. Truly hearing her voice, in terms of understanding her thoughts, needs, and other expressions, however, was not always easy. In the beginning, Carly tended to share only a word or two, and when singing, sometimes it was challenging to fully hear her. As she became more confident in her role as a student and performer, the use of her voice as a tool to communicate was one of the most striking changes. Carly is able to speak and sing clearly into the microphone, introducing her songs, greeting the audience, and sometimes inviting them to sing along!
Carly has developed a strong rapport with both students and staff, and we were delighted when Carly began initiating conversations and asking questions to make small talk. She has also grown in using her self-advocacy skills, letting others know her needs and wants. Carly’s use of her voice to communicate is one of the most striking changes we have witnessed in her time at BHMA. She has developed a tool to convey her thoughts and emotions, and this tool includes both her singing and speaking voice to connect to others. This is witnessed by her connection with the audience, her beautiful smile, and the clear joy she expresses everyday. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for Carly, and are appreciative of the opportunity to have participated in her journey!