Harmony Talks Neurodiversity


Last week I attended my first “Harmony Talk” at VSA center in Indianapolis. The VSA is a national organization supporting lifelong learning and creative expression for people with disabilities. There are VSAs across the country and I think that music therapists can find beautiful partnerships with the organization!

The talk I attended was called ‘Music, Autism, and Community.’ The presenter was and ethnomusicologist from Florida State University, Michael Bakan, PhD.

                             Image                                                               http://michaelbakan.com/artism-music-project/

Dr. Bakan discussed the music group he started for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): The ARTISM music project-Autism: Responding Together In Sound and Movement. The ensemble is comprised of children with ASD, their parents and professional musicians. The children play in what he refers to as the E-WoMP: Exploratory World Music Playground and the professional musicians play alongside of them. He allows the children to make music in whatever way they choose. Here is a video example of one of their dress rehearsals.


Ethnomusicology is very different from music therapy, and what Michael does is also different. He is not working on any goals he is providing an environment for the children to make music which results in a performance. 

Dr. Bakan mentioned a concept which supports what he does with the group. It is one I am only just beginning to learn: Neurodiversity. My understanding is that Neurodiversity is the thought that neurological differences like ASD are the result of normal, natural variations in the human genome. It is a fundamentally different way of looking at these types of conditions. People who have been diagnosed with Autism are not bad or in need of a cure….they are simply different. And their differences are a wonderful part of the diversity in the world.

Diff-ability not Dis-ability

If you want to hear more, here is a link to a TED talk he gave at FSU


I am so happy I decided to attend the Harmony Talk, it was a great discussion and helped to encourage a new way to think about how we interact with our clients who have Autism.

Dr. Bakan also recommends a book:

Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking is a collection of essays written by and for Autistic people. Spanning from the dawn of the Neurodiversity movement to the blog posts of today, Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking catalogues the experiences and ethos of the Autistic community and preserves both diverse personal experiences and the community’s foundational documents together side by side.

Here is a link to a site run by a music therapist who is doing some wonderful work promoting Neurodiversity through music in the community through her trademarked Sensory Friendly concerts.




Tell Me a Story…Sing Me a Story


“Tell me a story, creative story cards”

I just picked up the cutest set of cards to use in music therapy sessions! The cards are produced by eeBoo and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin.  You can see more here http://www.eeboo.com

The beautifully illustrated cards provide children & adults with an opportunity to create their own stories! Because each card is so wonderfully intricate, a new story can emerge every time you use the cards. They can also be used with a variety of age ranges and populations. Pictured here is the Animal Village set.


There are few different ways to use the cards.

Below I suggest two that I have used so far.

1) You can play as they suggest, creating a silly story(or SONG) together.

– 1 person goes first and draws a card, then starts the story

– Each person  takes a turn drawing a card and adds his/her plot to the story

– You can sing the story together using a simple improvised vamp.

This activity can help:

Promote creativity

Work on sequencing

Increase receptive and expressive communication


Another option for these cards is: 

2) YOU(the therapist) can sing a scenario and have the participant pick the card that best FITS what you are singing.


– The therapist lays out a few cards ( the more cards, the higher the difficulty)

– The therapist then sings a short scenario ( ex. Mr. Fox went a walking today and he saw some candy on his way)

– I use a simple blues progression-but you could use anything you wanted

– The participant then points to the card that correctly identifies the sung scenario

I use this intervention with school age children in the special education classroom and we have a lot of fun!  The activity allows for participation at many different levels. You can even add a layer of difficulty and ask them to identify  what else they  find in the picture.

This intervention addresses:

Receptive language

Working memory

Non verbal & verbal communication skills

Focus of attention 


How would you integrate these cards into your clinical work?!

Twitter&Instagram: @musictherapyoutloud

E-mail: musictherapyoutloud@gmail.com


A Spirit of Evidence Based Practice

Last weekend I attended my first Great Lakes Regional Conference just outside of Chicago, Il. Attending conferences in one of my favorite activities as a student and professional. Surrounded by students, faculty and professionals who are all attending a conference to learn and grow! EEEK FUN!

This year I noticed a lot of folks using the phrase ‘Evidence Based Practice.’ Now I am not sure if it is because more and more students and professionals are learning and incorporating Evidence Based Practice ( EBP) into their lives or if I am just hyper aware of this term whilst in the depths of a Masters program. Either way-It is music to my ears!


Evidence Based Practice-At a Glance!

It is a lifelong problem solving approach to clinical practice. EBP integrates a systematic search for the most relevant and best research with clinical experience and patient preferences.

Clinical expertise + internal evidence +external evidence +patient preferences= EBP

Steps to integrating evidence into your practice

**A spirit of inquiry** 

1-Ask the burning clinical questions.

A basic format for framing questions is to use the PICOT format

P-patient population

I- Intervention or issue of interest

C-Comparison intervention or group

T-Time frame

2-Search for and collect the most relevant and ‘best evidence’. 

Try starting with:

 Systematic reviews (summary of evidence on a particular topic) and/or

Meta-analyses (generate overall statistical summary that represents the effect of the intervention across multiple studies)

3- Critically appraise the evidence

Read the articles you find with a critical eye.

Ask questions while you read about the overall (1) effectiveness of the intervention (2) intervention-outcome relationship (3) feasibility of the intervention in your area of practice (4) validity

Sample Questions:

Will the results help my patients or me in caring for my patients?

Were the patients similar to mine?

Are there multiple comparisons of data?

Is there any possibility of bias?

4- Integrate the best evidence with your clinical expertise, patient preference and values in making practice decision or change.

Implementation phase! Try it out and keep track of client/patient response.

5-Evaluate outcomes of the practice decision or change based on evidence

Decide how you will evaluate success and growth in your clients/patients Unknown-1

6-Disseminate the outcomes of the evidence based practice decision or change.

This can be via an article or presentation at a conference.

Or through pamphlets or in services in the work place

You may even turn your incorporation of EBP into your practice into a study of the intervention effectiveness!


Incorporating the best available evidence into practice takes time and can be challenging. YOU can do this! You don’t have to be a ‘researcher’ or to incorporate these ideas.

I hope this post was a helpful introduction/overview of EBP.

How do you incorporate Evidence in your Practice?

How do you EBP?



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