My Friend, Joe Romano
Joe Romano decided to focus on working with children on the autism spectrum after many years as a professional musician through the 1980s, then as a music teacher in various schools starting in the 1990s, as well as giving private lessons on several instruments. I met Joe Romano as a result of his work with my daughter. My daughter is not a special needs child, (now she's not even a child) but we were fortunate enough to find Joe through a homeschooling network at the time he was transitioning into working almost exclusively with special needs children (and adults).
When we met, Joe explained the work he was doing with children on the autism spectrum. It certainly didn’t sound even vaguely like anything I had ever heard. Period. He was describing something that sounded surprisingly like vision therapy. It definitely didn’t sound like any music therapy to which I’d ever been exposed. I have come to learn that Joe is incredibly gifted and creative in his work with the special needs population.
He’s a Music Man
Music is the basis for Joe Romano’s therapy. Musical notes in combination with beat patterns and the cycling of note frequencies has been proven to change our heart rate and breathing patterns. Neurologist and best-selling author, Oliver Sacks, MD describes this phenomenon in his book Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. Sacks explains that music occupies more areas of the brain than the human language; we are a musical species. Music is also something most children on the spectrum are drawn to in one way or another. This makes music a great way for Joe to connect with these children in a non-threatening way. Then he turns the interaction into something completely different and completely amazing.
Joe combines music with movement, visual processing and other techniques he created, to help people enhance their visual information processing abilities. Movement and the visual process are critical factors in overall development. All of this can be very beneficial for children with developmental delays. I believed I had coined the term developmental music therapy after hearing exactly what it was Joe Romano was doing. I have since found it to be in use elsewhere. However, I still have not found anyone else who combines music with movement and close attention to the visual process the way Joe Romano does. This is what I believe sets him apart from all other music therapists - developmental or otherwise. Joe works closely with behavioral optometrists to maximize his results because he is convinced of the importance of proper lenses and vision therapy for people of all ages on the autism spectrum. Joe has enhanced the quality of life of many people struggling with developmental, behavioral and learning challenges.
Joe is not a licensed music therapist; he’s just one of the most interesting, caring and innovative people you could ever meet. If you saw the multiple-Oscar award winning film, The King’s Speech, you may remember the amazing albeit eccentric therapist, Lionel Logue, who succeeded where others had failed in helping the Duke of York overcome his stuttering. Interestingly, Logue used music in a very unusual way at the outset of his therapy with Prince Albert. I just kept thinking of Joe as I watched the movie and its depiction of this incredibly creative man plying his therapy.
How did Joe Romano come to incorporate the visual process into his work with children on the autism spectrum?
As a young child, Joe had a severe eye turn. One eye often pointed at his nose instead of aiming with the other eye. Surgery to straighten the eye was recommended but Joe’s mother was not convinced that this was appropriate and declined. Sometime later Joe began to create and carry out his own program of what he now knows as vision therapy. Alone in his room, in secret, by the light of the streetlight outside his bedroom window, Joe worked night after night training his brain to get his eyes to work together until finally, it worked. His crossed eye began to stay straight and work with his other eye more and more. This changed everything for Joe. His body began to work better - more symmetrically. Music, which previously sounded like just so much noise, began to make sense and sound like music. The constant taunts, commonly aimed at children with crossed eyes, ceased. Joe uses the knowledge he gained by his first-hand experience, incorporating important aspects of vision therapy into his work. He has since enhanced his understanding of the visual process tremendously by attending numerous behavioral optometric conferences as both attendee and presenter.
Joe wanted to reach a wider audience, not just to help more people understand the work he does, but also to help families of children on the autism spectrum become aware of the important work done by behavioral optometrists for this population. Joe is currently teaming up with Patty Lemer (co-founder of Development Delay Resources http://devdelay.org) and another DDR board member/mother to educate parents on the importance of a more thoughtful approach to screen-time for children on the spectrum. The allure of the iPad must be balanced with other pursuits for these children (and really all children). Most important to me though, is Joe's desire to create something for children on the autism spectrum to enjoy and benefit from on many levels.