Temple Grandin

Last Thursday I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Temple Grandin speak at my alma mater, University of Miami. Each time I hear her speak, I pull out new information. This time, I was absorbing information so I could integrate it into my work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I have always had an interest in ASD, since this is primarily the population I work with as a music therapist. To hear someone speak so articulately about why children with ASD need to flap their hands or why they might cry when you put a certain sweater on them was incredible. She is able to articulate what many of the children I work with do not.

Temple Grandin2

Here are some of the main points that I pulled from this lecture and how they tie into music therapy:

Dr. Grandin stressed the importance of teaching social manners & social rules.

In music therapy, we start most sessions with a hello song and greeting song, where we practice social manners such as shaking hands, giving high fives, and giving hugs.

Use what the child with ASD is interested in. Build on the area of strength. Tap into the motivation.

This made me think immediately of music because it is inherently such a motivating stimulus. In music therapy, it is important to see what musical instruments and activities initially interest the child, and use those things to work on joint attention, expressive language, and other non-musical skills.

– People with ASD can’t follow a long string of directions. Slow down when you speak.

Another very important concept to remember in our music therapy sessions. Keep directions short and sweet. Many times I even sing my directions!

– People with ASD hand flap and perform other repetitive behavior to calm themselves down.

This was an interesting point. Many times teachers or parents try to stop hand flapping or rocking and reprimand the child. However, Dr. Grandin stressed the importance of not trying to extinguish these behaviors all at once. People with ASD hand flap and perform other repetitive behaviors to calm the themselves down, she says.

She offers some suggestions – you could allow them an hour a day to do these behaviors; or you could reward them for going increasingly long periods of time without performing the repetitive behaviors. As a music therapist – what about supporting the individual musically while they are performing these behaviors? Could you play the piano in time with the rocking back and forth?

– When a child makes a mistake don’t say no, tell them what to do.

If a child reaches across the table to grab something, don’t tell them “No!” Instead, tell them what to do – “Remember to ask someone to pass the mashed potatoes if you can’t reach them.” This is very important for young children. Many times we tell them “Don’t hit!” and all they hear is “Hit!” It’s important to tell them what you want them to do – “Keep your hands folded quietly in your lap please.”

– Teach math with real things, not abstractly.

This reminds me of the importance of using visual aids and real objects when working on academic concepts within our music therapy sessions.

– Dr. Grandin stressed the importance of early intervention when a child is diagnosed with ASD.


Her main point was a beautiful one. We need to embrace the differences between all different kinds of minds:

Temple Grandin3

Have you ever heard Temple Grandin speak? If so, what was the most important thing that stuck with you? Leave a comment below…