Neuroscience: It’s What’s For Dinner

A few weeks ago my co-intern, Darby, and I had the pleasure of attending the Autism Tree Project Foundation’s 4th Annual Neuroscience Conference. Located at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, this day long conference consisted of ten different presentations and two panel discussions that ranged a wide variety of topics relating to autism spectrum disorders. Progressive and groundbreaking research such as Dr. Lawrence Fung’s study “GABA and Sociocommunicative Abilities in Adults with Autism” and Dr. Leanne Chukoskie’s “Leveling up: Using Video Games to Create Job Training Opportunities for Young Adults with ASD” show the different ways in which ASD can be studied. My favorite part, however, was the Living Autistically Panel Forum. This forum discussed the challenges, successes, dreams, and insights of five individuals living with ASD. The panelist include Mason Todd Brown, Lawson Hickey, Lauren Taylor, Chris T. Rosenbaum, and Lora McGuigan. While they all share similar diagnoses, they come from different backgrounds and had different life experiences growing up with Autism. There are a few key points, however, that I took from this panel discussion:

  1. Don’t assume

Chris boldly stated that the biggest mistake people have made is forming assumptions on what he was/was not able to do because of Autism. Each panelist made it clear that they are more than their disorder and have unique ideas and talents that are of exceptional value to this world. Those with ASD often have difficulty expressing thoughts and emotions, however, they take in much more information than many would think and their expressive ability should not reflect their capabilities.


     2.   Autism doesn’t make you unaware.           

When asked if they don’t miss socializing because they have never really known it, the panelists corrected the audience member by stating how painfully aware they are of their social limitations. They compared their social habits to those who are shy, and discussed how they should not be excluded or treated differently just because of their diagnosis. It was disheartening to hear these challenges so explicitly stated, however, it is furthermore proof that the way professionals and society approach socialization and Autism matters.


     3.   TEAMWORK!        

Not one singular therapy can work for all people with ASD, nor is it likely that one individual with ASD will meet their therapeutic goals by utilizing only one form of therapy. It is the combination of different techniques and interventions as well as support from friends, family, and professionals that provides the most effective results.


To learn more about the Autism Tree Project Foundation, see upcoming events, or donate to their cause visit



Haaaave you met Music Therapy?

You know when you hear someone say, “If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard that…”
Well, at the risk of sounding cliché, if I had a nickel for every time I heard something like, “Music therapy? What is that?” I’d have… more nickels.
The funny part is, even though I’ve run across countless music therapy questions during my school and intern careers, I haven’t always felt satisfied with my quick explanations. If you think about it, you only have a small window of time to capture your inquirer’s attention and leave them with a good first impression of music therapy. That’s a lot of pressure!
Fear not, music therapy friends. I have compiled some of my favorite tips, imparted upon me by some wise music therapists, for being an effective liaison to the world of music therapy. By following the presented steps, you should walk away from each of your introductions to music therapy feeling confident that you made a positive impression on your audience, established yourself as an informed authority, and that you contributed to the health of the music therapy discipline in general. Nice job.
Side note, if you feel so inclined to share or reuse the infographic, please refer credit back to The Music Therapy Center of California.
Happy music-making!
Introducing MT Infographic

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) …Demystified: MACT

Musical Attention Control Training: MACT

What is MACT?

Musical Attention Control Training, or MACT, is the use of music experiences and/or musical elements to practice a specific type of attention.

To really understand MACT, we’re going to take a closer look at the “A” in that acronym, for attention.

 Attention is the selective awareness of or selective responsiveness to the sensory environment around you. The ability to choose where you focus your attention is the first step in the learning process, and we all differ in our abilities to control our attention. The good news: we can develop attention control skills like building blocks through structured practice! We can conceptualize the types of attention as a pyramid, starting with focused attention as the base:



What does MACT look like in a music therapy session?

Music therapists tailor MACT exercises to suit their clients’ interests and clinical needs. As a result, MACT can look very different from session to session or client to client. MACT exercises may entail the use of many different music-based therapeutic music experiences.

For example, music therapists may facilitate sustained instrument-playing incorporating preferred and (the ever tricky) non-preferred instruments. Alternatively, a sustained attention exercise may call for the client and therapist to play instruments while the client adjusts their playing style (e.g. fast vs. slow, loud vs. soft, high vs. low, etc.) in response to musical cues (ideally without verbal prompts) from the therapist. A music therapist may target selective attention by introducing extraneous sound “distractors” to a music experience and challenge the client not to respond to (e.g. turn head to look at) the distractors.

Alternating attention exercises may require a client to shift their attention between two tasks, like tracking visual notation (e.g. sheet music) and playing an instrument simultaneously. At the end of the day, MACT could refer to a wide range of active or receptive music experiences, as long as they are designed to practice one or more types of attention, and utilize music as a delivery medium.

How music makes it work:

Active and receptive music experiences share powerful patterns of brain activation in the bilateral frontal lobes, brainstem, and attention systems in the cerebral cortex. This overlap ensures that the attention skills practiced with music will translate to other contexts, like school or vocational skills. Furthermore, music experiences like instrument-playing, singing, or improvising are often intrinsically motivating, allowing music therapists to get our “foot in the door” to engage with clients and bolster attention skills. Finally, music, as an organized auditory stimulus, brings timing, grouping, and temporal organization so that attention can be sustained and strengthened over time.


Thanks for reading!


Top Internship Learnings

For my first journal entry for internship on May 28th, I wrote about my expectations and philosophy of internship.

“My internship philosophy is generally focused around growth, change, and learning. I hope to grow as a clinician, musician, professional, and person during my time in internship. I know that some of what I believed to be true prior to starting internship will change and shift during the six months, whether that be about internship itself, music therapy, or myself. I know that I will change during this time, and though at times it may be hard, it will all be shaping me into a quality music therapist. I hope to learn all that I can during this time in whatever ways I can, from whoever I can. I have already learned so much in three weeks, so I cannot even imagine the wealth of knowledge and skill set I will leave internship with. My expectations of this internship are mostly that I will have little free time, I will be giving my all into planning and implementing session material, and I will gain lots of insight and knowledge about the ins and outs of music therapy in a private practice setting.”

As I am reflecting at the end of my internship, I am surprised at how accurate my expectations were. I’ve had little free time, I’ve stretched and challenged myself, and I have grown significantly in many ways. I am grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had, and ending it is definitely bittersweet. I’ve created an infographic about my top internship learnings:

Top internship learnings (1).jpg


As I enter this next season of life and my professional career, I feel prepared to tackle whatever may come my way.