Dance/Movement Therapy With Individuals With Developmental Disabilities

March is Developmental Disabilities (DD) Awareness Month. Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is an effective approach when working with this population. As a dance/movement therapist who works full-time with adults with DD, I want to shed light on my work with them on a daily basis.


It’s important to understand that DD is not a DSM-V diagnosis but rather a “catch-all” phrase for an array of conditions, including intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy to name a few. As dance/movement therapists we need to be cognizant of this when working with individuals with DD so that our chosen interventions in group address our clients’ unique needs. My main focus in dance/movement therapy groups is to create a holding environment. By this I mean I try to create an environment where my clients feel safe expressing themselves in movement. I access my skills in kinesthetic empathy and mirroring, as well as establish appropriate boundaries to create a holding environment. If I am successful, I’ll notice that my clients engage in creative movement, engage in appropriate social skills, and make choices that relate to the direction of group in the present moment, all of which are common therapy goals for my clients.

Pile of Hands

A dance/movement therapy group starts with a verbal and kinesthetic check-in that allows me to gauge the energy level of the group as a whole. Then I ask, “What would everyone like to do in DMT group today?” From there, clients choose music to dance to, engage in a creative movement exploration, or sit and observe other group members move. Since there is an array of ability within my groups, I allow varying levels of involvement in the DMT group process. As the group end nears, I lead the group in a movement cool-down. During cool-down, I attempt to engage my clients in a group verbal process, asking them concretely, “How was group?” Non-verbal clients may smile or nod in response to my question, while verbal clients may say, “Group was good.” If I witnessed a particularly important moment during group I verbalize this to them to highlight said moment.

My main focus of DMT with adults with DD is to empower them to make choices and engage them in creative, authentic movement. This might manifest as simply helping me load the CD player, or it may manifest as standing up to dance without the assistance of a cane. Individuals with DD are a group of individuals that are often told what to do and when to do it, whether this relates to personal hygiene, appropriate social behavior, or how to take public transportation. My approach to DMT is to create an environment that allows and accepts what movement activity my clients want to do for the allotted group time.


As I am sure with all dance/movement therapists, I am constantly learning and growing as a result of my work. My clients remind me daily of the beauty in the array of ability we have as unique individuals. They remind me of the simple joy in being in the present moment, letting go, and dancing to music.


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