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.




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