My master’s thesis, Joint Attention Responses to Simple Versus Complex Music of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) JUST came out in the most recent issue of the Journal of Music Therapy! Yay! It has not yet arrived in Miami, so I am eagerly checking the mailbox to see if the little brown book is in there.
In the meantime, I want to share with you some things I have learned through my eight years of working with children on the autism spectrum (some of which have been informed by the results of my study). Children with ASD make up a large part of my caseload both at United Cerebral Palsy and in my private practice. Along the way I have tried things in my music therapy sessions that have been successful and things that have been…not so successful. (Can you relate?)
Here are some things I have learned along the way that have enhanced my practice and brought about significant changes in the behaviors of the children I work with:
1. Let children look through your bag of tricks –
I go into all my music therapy assessments knowing that each child has unique needs and sensitivities. Rather than coming in with a set session plan, I simply set out my bag (the one that holds all my instruments and props) and see what interests the child. Or if the child comes to my music room for sessions, I’ll let them walk around for a bit to see what they like.
Do they gravitate towards the kokoriko? Are they fascinated by the feel of the scarves? By observing what the child is interested in, I can use that to engage them and begin to asses different areas.
2. Start with sensory –
Children with ASD have differing sensory needs. They might be hyper sensitive or hypo sensitive (sensory seeking). You can talk with the child’s occupational therapist to learn about their sensory needs. Once needs are determined, we can provide them with appropriate experiences during music therapy or co-treatment sessions (my favorite!)
If the child is sensory seeking, you can start your sessions with bouncing on a therapy call to a rhythmic beat or jumping on a trampoline to a rhythmic beat. If the child is overstimulated and needs to be calmed, you can provide light tactile stimulation with feathers or cotton balls as you sing.
(More on this in a few weeks! I am in the process of creating a series (with video!) on how music therapists can use sensory integration techniques in their sessions with children with ASD. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite topics.)
3. Use silence as much as you use musical sounds –
Can you relate to this scenario:
Therapist: “What color is the ball? What color is the ball? Blue. Blue…the ball is blue!”
If you’re like me, you sometimes forget to leave a space for SILENCE. I am great at prompting, but when I leave space for silence, it can provide moments for incredible responses. This also helps so the child doesn’t provide an echolalic response and simply repeat back the answer that you say.
Some food for thought on your Wednesday. Stay tuned for Part 2 next Wednesday, where I share more ways to improve your practice with children with ASD.
Please remember that each child with ASD is unique and the suggestions above may or may not be effective for the children you work with. Try new things, experiment, notice responses, and you will come up with your own things…and I hope you’ll share in the comments section below!
For now, I’ll be checking my mailbox…
Image courtesy of [David Castillo Dominici] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net