Malaysian educator creating music therapy book for children with special needs


Daryll (left) and Edwin (centre) incorporate music therapy to teach students with special needs. Photo: Filepic

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands – one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn

Special needs education teacher Daryll Nathaniel has been extremely busy during the lockdown. He’s been poring over research material on music therapy for children with disabilities. He’s also jotting down notes for the chapters of a music therapy book that he’s co-authoring with his father, Edwin Nathaniel, 62.

Edwin is a musician and co-founder of the award-winning music band Aseana Percussion Unit (Apu). Among his circle of friends, Edwin is known for his dedication to teaching music to special needs kids.

“Dad and I are taking this time to write a book on music therapy, focusing on the Rise (Rhythm Interactive Special Needs Enable) method. If everything goes well, we should be able to publish the book sometime early next year,” said Daryll, 32, in an email interview recently.

Apu designed Rise – a music therapy syllabus for children with different types and varying levels of learning disabilities, including those with autism, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome – in 2000.

Edwin (left) and Daryll are working on a book on the Rise teaching method for children with special needs. Photos: Daryll Nathaniel Edwin (left) and Daryll are working on a book on the Rise teaching method for children with special needs. Photos: Daryll Nathaniel

Rise focuses on the idea of making music using percussion instruments (or anything at hand, including mortar and pestle, frying pan and chopsticks) while having fun. In 2006, the Rise programme clinched the Best Community Arts Project at the 5th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.

Before the pandemic, the Nathaniels organised over 50 free workshops, travelling across Malaysia to train special education teachers on running the Rise programme. Edwin has also shared the teaching methods with teachers in New Delhi, Bangkok and Singapore.

But in the past year, they haven’t been able to travel interstate or conduct training programmes due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases. The objective of their book is to enable teachers to gain access to their training methods.

“The Rise method is conducted in an interactive manner to inculcate team spirit and discipline. We hope that by reading the book, teachers will have a better understanding of how to develop a sense of musical appreciation among children with special needs,” said Daryll, who has played a key role in organising Rise workshops for over 15 years.

Daryll is among a growing number of Malaysian youths who make an effort to help people with special needs. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Daryll gives credence to this old adage, especially when it comes to charitable deeds. He is lucky to have Edwin – a person who’s been involved with social work and community projects for decades – as his role model.

Daryll (left) believes in the benefits of music therapy in helping people with special needs.Daryll (left) believes in the benefits of music therapy in helping people with special needs.

“Growing up, I watched Dad volunteer his time at the Spastic Children’s Association of Selangor and Federal Territory (SCAS&FT) in Petaling Jaya. Often, my younger brother Ian and I followed him to teach people with special needs. It made me learn to love and care for those around us.

“I call the students our ‘special friends with a big heart’. It’s wonderful how Dad has touched so many lives and hopefully I can follow in his footsteps too one day,” shared Daryll, who is attached to a Petaling Jaya-based school for teenagers with special needs. There, he teaches Mathematics, music and basic culinary skills.

Despite his busy schedule, Daryll continues to reach out and help underprivileged communities in various ways, including feeding the poor and volunteering at old folks’ homes. He’s dressed up as Santa Claus at charity events too.

“I’ve fed the homeless with friends or just alone. However, feeding underprivileged people shouldn’t always be a publicised activity. It can be the random act of buying some hot food on a cold rainy day to keep people warm. Simple acts of kindness go a long way.

“From young, Dad has always reminded us that life isn’t about wealth, fancy cars or big houses. It boils down to how many hearts you have touched.

“He believes that race, religion or creed should never be an obstacle in charity and community service. We give because we love and we do it to help others,” said Daryll, who also teaches drums to children with special needs at Music Mart, his father’s music school in Petaling Jaya.

Daryll (right) and Edwin share a love for music and volunteer work.Daryll (right) and Edwin share a love for music and volunteer work.

Edwin is also pleased with his sons’ maturity and selflessness.

“Daryll and Ian are more grounded, and humble. They are responsible kids who are ever willing to lend people a helping hand,” he explained with pride.

Daryll encourages youths to do their part to help underprivileged communities.

“Anyone can do their part to help someone in need. Pick a charitable cause that’s right for you. Take the lead and do something that can benefit society.

“If you see a homeless person while buying your lunch, buy an extra packet and bless his/her life. If we can spend RM50 buying unnecessary stuff online, what’s RM10 to make someone’s day a little better?”

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