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Autism Parenting Magazine

By Eddie Tuduri on Aug 01, 2013 at 12:00 AM in Trap Learning Skills

I’ve had the privilege of working closely with children and adults with Autism and others with Intellectual and Developmental Differences. I’ve surrounded myself with brilliant teachers, therapists, parents and doctors who have shared their expertise, guidance and inspiration for more than 16 years.

The Rhythmic Arts Project educates individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Differences by embracing a curriculum that encompasses rhythm as a modality to address basic life and learning skills as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. Our approach encompasses visual, tactile, auditory and perceptual motor matches combined with speech to achieve results. You literally see it, feel it, hear it and speak the lesson. This redundancy of information is the key to our continued success.

Just so you know, I’m a musician by trade. My life in the field of disabilities began as a result of a body surfing accident. On September 6th 1997, I was catching the last wave at the beach in Carpinteria, California before getting ready for my gig that night in a pizza joint on the Mesa in Santa Barbara. I had played the night before in a fun club in San Luis Obispo and was looking forward to another funky gig with Skye Ferguson, one of my favorite blues artists here on the Central Coast. As I swam into the crest of the wave it grabbed and slammed me into the ocean bottom; no hesitation, no continuity, just wham, bam and crack! Three feet under water…my body floating into what seemed infinity. For lack of any other descriptive adjectives, a flock of angels disguised as lifeguards, and paramedics gathered me up, body, mind, and spirit; including my splintered neck, and rushed me off to the hospital. Though divine hands clearly played a significant role in this rescue, these precious souls served as incomparable partners.

After an emergency cervical fusion and a week in ICU, I was transferred to The Rehabilitation Institute in Santa Barbara. Although antiquated, the old world Spanish charm gave the sprawling adobe complex a sense of character and undeniable Santa Barbara style. Set in the foothills overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a cool breeze and picturesque view made it as pleasant a place as possible for people who were facing traumatic life changes on a daily basis. The building was designed to contain several patient wards in addition to the various treatment, recreation, and administrative offices. The rehab was indeed a safe haven, a place to heal and re-think my life. In the beginning I couldn’t participate, just simply observe this new world I found myself in.

Playing drums enveloped the better part of my life and the thought of losing that ability was disturbing to say the least. I began trying to play with a practice pad and a pair of sticks in bed. I had very limited motion in all my extremities and basically only one hand was able to hold the stick for any length of time. It seemed impossible that I would ever play again, at least not seriously, but I had to try. I found ways to compensate for what deficit I had. I got around it to the extent that I could play rhythms on the pad, on the side of the bed, on cups, on tables, whatever I could reach from my bed. It was causing a bit of a disturbance in my ward.
Fast forward to a few days and we had an ensemble group in our ward that was amazing and as entertaining as anything I’ve seen! These sessions turned into actual classes in my Occupational Therapy group where we began to address various goals in rehab including focus, attention, balance and range of motion. All the various disciplines in the hospital found a use for the methods.

Libby Whaley, the Director of Recreational Therapy, took an active interest in our classes and began lending her expertise on a regular basis. When she felt confident the program had therapeutic merit, she brought it to senior leadership at the hospital where it was approved. From then on it was a matter of experience, trial and error and finally showing it to other therapists at conferences both regional and national.

It was at one of these conferences I met a recreational therapist named Suzy Getty who would introduce me to the field of Intellectual and Developmental Differences. Suzy enjoyed our workshop and felt it may be something the kids she worked with would enjoy. She invited me to her class at a school in Pasadena. She taught one class of children ages five through twelve while her partner, Seiko Niimi, my eventual partner, a developmental therapist, taught another class ages twelve through twenty.

This was a learning experience that touched me deeply as I watched the intellectual and developmentally challenged kids play and laugh with Suzy’s gentle instruction integrating the drums and percussion into existing therapeutic modalities. Suzy had the kids sit in a circle with their hands on their laps. She put a shaker in front of each one and asked them to pick it up. “Shake the shaker over your head,” she said, “now put it down on the floor and put your hands back on your lap.” “Pick it up and shake it in front of you and then put it down on the floor again.” “Now, pick it up and tap your elbow with the shaker, touch your toes, hold it behind you, wave it across, around you, tap it under your seat,” and so on. Prepositional concepts became a fun game that would in time result in a true learning experience for the kids. These simple concepts would apply in the typical world by giving our students more confidence and integrity. Seiko’s kids were older and a tad more capable and so the instruction was adjusted to their level. That is the beauty of the program; it works on many levels regardless of the ability.

In the years to follow TRAP has reached a noteworthy presence in the field of Special Education. After collaborating with some of the worlds most cleaver and brilliant teachers, clinicians, and facilitators, the evidence is clear. We’ve touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people young and old and the program continues to grow and evolve. Now facilitated in six countries, requests continue to flow in from all over the United States as well as the far corners of the world.

In respect to the parents I work with, it is a privilege to know so many folks who take in stride what I’d consider near heroic feats on a daily basis.
Routine, day-to-day doldrums that would appear overwhelming and complex to most of us seem second nature to parents, guardians and siblings of Intellectually and Developmentally different kids and adults. Parents and siblings carry a seemingly unwavering commitment 24/7. They’re not able to leave their compassion at the office and then punch it in again the next day like a time card. It’s ongoing. In my opinion there is no accolade great enough befitting these unsung hero’s.

My work is delightful given the situation I’m able to create with little ones, adults, teachers, and therapists alike. It’s a win/win in light of how much fun we have. This is not to say we don’t make a significant contribution, we do. It’s the essence of good humor and laughter that frame and enhance The Rhythmic Arts Project. There has been much personal satisfaction in these past years. The most cherished moments having enjoyed the unconditional love, devotion, and dedication shown by all the people surrounding the project. Commitment seemed as natural as sunlight to these people, truly part of who they are.

You can find out more about The Rhythmic Arts Project at: Our offices are at:
3068 Paseo Del Descanso
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
805 682 1702
[email protected]


The Rhythmic Arts Project has enriched the lives of my student’s. The level of student engagement has greatly increased and they are very focused on their drumming. The self-regulation component of TRAP is a skill my students will benefit from throughout their lives. Starting and stopping on cue and eyes focusing on the leader as well as low, just right and high body levels are strategies that are showing improvement with our drumming sessions. My students are receiving the needed extra sensory input from the extra auditory and physical sensations of their music. With the TRAP Program you can teach students most skills from developing learning to learn skills to equations. My students especially enjoy the challenges of patterns, signing colors, learning phone numbers and addresses. The greatest effect of this program is the excitement and elation my students feel before, during, and after their Rhythmic Arts lesson. The source of this joy can be accredited to multiple aspects of the Rhythmic Arts Project including its environment of inclusion and celebration, along with Eddie and his easy going positive spirit. The TRAP program fosters an environment that allows each of my students to express themselves with their own individual style of percussion. This in turn permits each student to feel like a “star” during drumming and dance solos that are immediately followed by peer praise. Denise Pannell, MS Triton Academy
Denise Pannell
Ventura County Board of Education