I feel like it has been a while since I wrote a real blog post! Between forming my LLC, launching my new ebook, and some other projects that will soon be revealed ;) , it feels like I haven’t had a moment to sit back and reflect on it all.

Sometimes when you own a private practice, you can get really caught up in all the “business-y” stuff: answering emails, corresponding with parents, reworking marketing materials, etc, ETC. Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself to get back to focusing on the clinical work….on your clients…and what you are doing all that “business-y” stuff for anyway!

A good majority of the children and teens I work with are on the autism spectrum. My sessions with these individuals excite and inspire me. I am constantly learning. In the process of reminding myself to refocus on my clinical work, I realized I have gained some seriously juicy knowledge that is helping to improve my work with these individuals.

I wouldn’t call it earth-shattering, but check it out and see if it might help you.

Here’s what my clients with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) have shown me:

1) The importance of sensory activities

I used to try and try to engage children with ASD right from the beginning of the session in a song about numbers or a song about shaking hands with friends. Many times I would meet with resistance. However, once I started co-treating with occupational therapists (the best continuing education EVER!), I began to learn the importance of sensory integration. I began to see how providing sensory interventions at the beginning of my sessions can help these children get “organized” so they can attend to other tasks. Never underestimate the power of the cabasa rolled on a child’s back when they are upset and need to calm down or when they are seeking out sensory stimulation!

2) Allow time for processing

How many times during a session do I say this: “Allen, what is this it’s a dog!” or “Point to the triangle. Point to the triangle. It’s right here!” Sometimes I move through activities so quickly that I forget to pause to allow time for processing. If I ask a question, I need to give the child time to process the question and formulate a response. The amount of time varies depending on the child, but I have found this to be very important. This small change has helped my clients reach their goals even faster!

3) Facilitate joint attention by using what they are interested in!

Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but how many times have I gone into a session with the entire thing planned out from top to bottom. In my individual sessions I have started just setting out my “bag of tricks” to allow the child to explore….or setting out a few instruments and watch which one/s they are drawn to. Then, I will use the instrument or prop they are interested in to engage them and work on expressive language….or socialization…or whatever their goals might be. (This is REALLY helpful during assessment sessions when you’re getting to know the child!)

4) Sometimes simple is better.

I’m someone who is always striving to improve my musical skills. I’m constantly looking to add new, exciting guitar strum patterns or fun auto accompaniments on keyboard. However, sometimes not only is this not effective, but it can actually cause problems. In the case of children with ASD, sometimes the guitar is overstimulating. Sometimes the keyboard auto accompaniment + the sound of the drum + my singing can be waaaaaay overstimulating. If I learned one thing from my master’s thesis (which you can check out in the Journal of Music Therapy this winter!!), it’s that simple is sometimes better. So that means putting the guitar down and singing a cappella…that means turning off the auto accompaniment on keyboard and using simple blocked chords to accompany myself.

The above realizations have enhanced my clinical work in ways I never expected. And maybe they will help you, too! (keeping in mind individual differences in our clients, of course).

Action time! What knowledge have YOU gained from your work with children ASD that you can share with the rest of us? I want to keep learning, don’t you?