Find your ‘bubble inside a bubble’

December 1, 2021

Families shut inside in Auckland and Northland have had some online relief during their extended COVID-19 lockdown, with Auckland-based music therapist Ahjay Stelino taking his sounds and skills directly to families with disabled children.

Ahjay Stelino works with IHC Programmes to offer music therapy. As lockdown dragged on in the north, IHC sent out an invitation to families in Auckland and Northland on the IHC Library database to participate in online music therapy with Ahjay. The sessions started in early September and the first one, for children under 12, was booked out within hours.

The online groups are kept small and children are grouped by age. Families are asked to have a few things handy (a musical instrument, plastic container, rice, dried lentils, silk scarf, bubbles) to use in the workshop.

This is familiar territory for Ahjay. He was online during lockdown 2020, providing free musical interaction for families struggling to entertain young children through a dedicated Facebook channel – now called Awhi Ngā Mātua. This is an online community for parents of tamariki with disabilities and high health needs, set up and supported by IHC Programmes.

Ahjay says nine online workshops have been held since June 2020 – “four of these workshops are in our new online workshop format”. These formats are specifically designed for up to five families and run for 90 minutes each, providing an in-depth and personalised approach to resourcing the families to do music at home with their young people.

He says the format has been particularly successful for children aged three to 10 years. “The workshops have been so successful that we had to add extra sessions to the original plan to cope with the demand.

“The workshops offer a great way to support families while they are at home. It also demonstrates that it is possible to engage children with disabilities and their families through an online medium.”

Ahjay, who has two boys aged five and nine, says listening to music together or playing music together can be a fun, relaxing family activity to add to the day.

“Listening to music individually can allow each person to have their own ‘bubble within a bubble’  where they can escape into the world created by the music they are listening to.”

Ahjay says these are one-off sessions, so the focus is on helping parents with ideas for  using music at home, rather than on doing music therapy sessions with the children.

“With both the in-person and online sessions, I like having the whole family involved,” he says. “Especially important are siblings, as I find that these younger persons are usually very enthusiastic and naturally inclined to want to do music with their brother or sister with disabilities.”

An important aim of the project is to make sure the families keep using music beyond the one-off sessions. The families all receive musical resource packs to help them continue to apply the ideas learnt in the sessions. The packs are handed out at the in-person sessions and mailed out for the online sessions.

The success of last year’s online sessions was the catalyst for the in-person sessions hosted by IHC this year and funded by Wellington Community Trust and Trust Waikato.

Caption: Ethan Wan-Zeng, encouraged by dad Caleb Wan-Zeng, shakes a shaker made at the Hamilton Central Library workshop in May, as Ahjay Stelino plays and sings. Ethan took part along with his twin brother Enoch.