By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer
For Cody Waites, a lifelong passion of his has allowed a group of kids to express themselves in ways they might not have been able to before.
For the last year, the Class of 2017 human development and family studies major has been diving into the deep end to learn and gain experience in the field of music therapy, a new practice that uses music to help kids with disabilities gain confidence along with the developmental skills needed to be at the same level as their peers.
“It’s definitely a rising interest, but there’s definitely not a whole lot of research on it yet,” Waites said.
Though he has been working with elementary schools from his hometown in Connecticut this past summer, much of his experience comes from Wildcats Friends, a program that allows young adults with developmental disabilities to come and participate in a college class geared towards their own specific interest.
“If we can do things like (music therapy) and start to get them caught up developmentally to the other kids, it would be a huge step,” Waites said, in regards to the importance of the programs he’s worked on. “I feel like it’s so easy… and not tapped into at all.”
This work, in his opinion, has had some mind-blowing results that he’s been able to see firsthand.
“There have been kids who have entered the program not talking at all. We do a theatre class and we do a production at the end of every semester,” he said. “Seeing some of the kids we couldn’t get to talk, sing a full song by themselves in front of a bunch of people at a show just really kind of blows me away.”
Though it’s these personal stories that he enjoys the most, he’s also loved what he’s learned about the little research that has been done in the field by default, some of which he’s been working on replicating and expanding on his own.
“It’s been found on the more severe spectrum they can’t really pay attention to the complex music as much,” explained Waites. “So really simple beats and words makes it really easy for them to zero in on and they focus. They can focus on the music and then eventually start to sign a little bit, which is really interesting.”
Though Waites seems to be excelling in the field now, he didn’t always start off with the focus.
Life-long music lover Waites, who can play seven instruments and sing, is a self-taught musician who first began playing back in third grade when he started playing in his school’s orchestra, but came to UNH as a declared business major.
“I did fine in the classes and obviously, I’d probably make more money that way,” he said. “But I’m happier doing this and I just find it more rewarding.”
It was after the post-freshman year major change to human development and family studies when he stumbled upon music therapy.
“I was talking to one of my professors, Molly Connelly, about it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you could specialize yourself…and just something that I think sets me a little bit apart from other people.”
Though he has been able to rely on some of what he’s learned from his classes, Waites says this has once again been a self-propelled learning experiencing.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” he said. “There’s not a lot of direction, like ‘this is what you’re supposed to do, this is what you’re supposed to do’. So it’s kind of been something I’ve really been trying to figure out.”
So far, with a year of unmatchable experience under his belt, Waites is looking forward to what the future might hold.
Though he hasn’t picked a definite career path as of yet, he still has some time to weigh all his options.
“I’ve been torn, to be honest, between everything,” he said, citing teaching and research as two potential paths to take.
“Ultimately, I’ve decided that I’m going to do everything,” he added, smiling.