Movement and Autism with Michelle Hardy, MM, MT-BC


Michelle Hardy, MM, MT-BC

Michelle Hardy is a Board-Certified Music Therapist with a master’s degree in Music Therapy from Colorado State University, having received her bachelor’s degree in music therapy from Loyola University in New Orleans in 1995. Michelle has worked with children and adults with various neurological impairments and developmental delays, but her focus is with individuals with autism and sensory processing difficulties. 

MTCCA staff and interns were given the opportunity to speak with Michelle Hardy, MM, MT-BC in our weekly symposium. My personal learnings taken from this meeting include the follwing;

What are the main diagnostic criteria of autism?

  1. Social deficits
  2. Deficits in communication

Did you know that motor movement is also a prominent diagnostic characteristic of autism? Michelle Hardy brought to our attention that motor movement is not included in the leading diagnostic criteria of autism in the DSM-IV not the DSM-V. However, motor movement deficit is a prominent characteristic in individuals with autism. This makes perfect sense because if you take a look at the parts of the brain that are affected by autism you will see that included are the cerebellum and the frontal lobe. These are the areas of the brain that help us with movement planning, grading, and executing. Before any deficits in attention, behavior, higher learning, or social skills can be improved in a child, their brain’s ability to integrate sensory information and program proper motor signals must be re-calibrated through brain activation modalities.

As a music therapist, treatment may include:

  • Rhythm Training
  • Use of a metronome
  • Proprioceptive stimulation

By using rhythm in a purposeful way, we can access the frontal lobe and mend long distance connections within the brain. Rhythm also creates a sense of predictability and strengthens pathways in the brain.

A specific intervention to include all of the above treatment ideas, would be Bilateral Drumming. Here is an example of bilateral drumming with Michelle Hardy.

*Notice the use of rhythm, a metronome and the proprioceptive feedback given from hitting the drums and walking.


Meet the Interns: Marissa

Bio PIc

Marissa is currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Music Therapy from California State University, Northridge.  Her primary instrument is piano, but she enjoys playing guitar and violin as well as singing.  Throughout her time in Northridge, Marissa participated in a wide variety of volunteer and work experiences, including leading weekly music hour in a local class of first graders with autism and serving as a Music Activities Counselor at Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, a summer camp for children and teens with cancer and their families, for three summers.  She also served as President of CSUN’s music therapy department student club, The Music Therapy Association of Northridge, where she coordinated campus and community events promoting and advocating for music therapy.

Marissa enjoys the creative process involved in working with clients and desires to use the mediums of both music and art to aid individuals in pursuing their personal growth and realizing their potential.  Marissa’s desire to make music and holistic wellness accessible to all people led her to create Thrive – a program based in Mozambique, Africa that uses music to promote well-being in the lives of Mozambican youth. She traveled to Mozambique in 2015 to launch the program, and is currently in the process of adapting it into a sustainable program that channels the cultural pillar of music into a vehicle for community development, emotional growth and support, and practice skill building goals.

“Some of my earliest and sweetest memories of my childhood are of my grandmother and mother sharing in the joy of making music together. From this young age, I learned to appreciate music and the unique modality it became for me to express myself, communicate, and connect with others. After learning about music therapy and realizing the rich diversity of the field, I was excited to dive into a career that is centered around connecting with others and growing together. It is such a joy and privilege to be able to invest in people’s lives through the medium of music and discover our human potential together.”

The Out-of-Sync Proprioceptive Sense

We have all seen that wiggly, fidgety child who climbs, touches, bumps into, and jumps onto just about almost anything and everything. The common conclusion that we often come to is that the child is misbehaving and has a surplus of energy. But the truth is that these children may have poor propriocetive sense which adversely effects their awareness of where there bodies are in space and effects their awareness of how fast or slow their bodies are moving. Our sensory processing abilities are supposed to tell us where our bodies are, allowing us to sit up straight and still and to tell us how fast or slow we are moving our bodies so that we can manipulate objects and move around in space without bumping into things. However, children with Sensory Processing Disorder are not being given the sensory information and/or are not able to integrate, modulate, organize and discriminate sensory messages efficiently causing them bounce, wiggle, rock, slide to the floor, and fidget.

There are ways to help these children establish awareness of their bodies which may allow them to listen better, retain information and focus. If you are working with a child who isn’t comfortable in their chair, are sliding off of it or is rocking it on two legs, try giving them an exercise ball to sit on and allow them to bounce while you teach your lesson or facilitate your intervention.  It may seem like they still are unable to pay attention due to their bouncing bodies but check in with them and you may see that they really are paying attention and are able to retain content. This is made possible because the sensory input received from the bouncing tells their bodies where they are, which then clears up the neuro pathways for them to focus on something else other than trying to figure out where their bodies are in space.

A music therapists approach for children in need of sensory input may include creating interventions that involve ample amounts of movement such as rocking, spinning, jumping or pushing.

The Hard Facts:

Proprioceptive dysfunction is the inefficient processing of sensations perceived through the muscles and skin, as well as the joints.”

The functions of our proprioceptive sense include:

  • Body awareness
  • Motor control
  • Motor planning
  • Regulation of arousal level (aroused or calm)
  • Discrimination of movement in time and space (tells us where our bodies are)

I leave you with this video which provides insight from the perspective of children with SPD and poor proprioception. I share this with hopes that others will think again when they see a wiggly little one.


When it’s Only You

Tuesday’s in the life of an MTCCA Intern are busy, busy days. But Tuesday’s are also one of the best days of the week because the junior and senior interns co-treat together. We have the opportunity to co-treat in individual and group sessions. Let me tell you, it is incredibly helpful in group sessions to have 2 sets of hands and 2 strong voices to help lead interventions. In a perfect world, music therapists would always be able to co-treat large group sessions, but in a the real world we aren’t always so lucky.

In my three months of internship thus far, I have learned that things are not always going to go as expected. Have it be an intervention that you thought was going to be great, but really wasn’t or that you thought you were going to always co-treat in large groups, but you occasionally  have to fly solo. With facing both of the above situations, I have learned to always be prepared with a plan A, B and C, don’t be afraid to work out of your norm and utilize your resources. And with this, I have a few learning’s to share.

Tips for Treating Large Groups Solo

  1. Breathe, you can do this.
  2. Keep the music going and if it stops, talk –  Sing a cappella if you need your hands for something else besides playing guitar (ie. modeling a movement, passing out and collecting instruments) If the music can’t keep going, use the silence as a teaching opportunity, drop a few informational blurbs on the benefits of what you are doing.
  3. Recruit the staff! – When co-treating, one intern is facilitating the music while the other is assisting the clients in movement and interacting 1:1. Since you’re on your own, ask the staff to assist with playing instruments or assist in a movement, they are there to help.
  4. Bring a speaker– If you have the opportunity to use a speaker, do it! Recruiting the staff is incredibly helpful but sometimes you might need more. In this case, have your music cued up and let the music happen while you free  up your hands to interact with the clients.

Happy Singing