Autism Speaks Walk + Kingsmen

Greetings, everyone- welcome to another blog post! 

I would love to share with you all a cool opportunity that occurred a few weeks ago, as well as some information about a few of our clients that I have the privilege to work with. On October 5th, we had the honor of going to the Autism Speaks Walk San Diego! In addition to that, some of our clients are in bands that The Music Therapy Center facilitates, and these bands got to perform on stage at the walk!

The walk was truly heartwarming and touching. One really special part from the morning was everyone gathering around together by the stage, and the emcee, Little Tommy gave special shout outs to all of the individuals that are either diagnosed with autism, or people who have family members and friends with autism. This was really special to see a sea of people who have come together for the same reason: to empower and celebrate individuals with Autism, and to look at the strengths that they hold instead of the “disabilities” part that people tend to focus on. A lot of Banding Together’s Jam Session members also were able to come up on stage and help us sing and dance right before this, which also made it very special! 

That being said, once a week, I have the opportunity to help facilitate a rock band that consists of four of our young adults with autism. We have a vocalist/keyboard player, an electric guitarist, a saxophonist, and a drummer. These four individuals are incredibly bright and talented individuals, each with their own big personalities. These clients never fail to make me smile and laugh every time I see them! For the past few months, we have been working on writing and performing an original blues song, and they were able to premiere that song at the walk! This was a huge step for them, as every person got a turn to improvise during the blues song. 


One of our goals as clinicians is for them is to step outside of their comfort zone and their box, because for individuals with Autism, getting stuck inside a routine and their own cycle can happen frequently. A lot of the times, The Kingsmen desire playing a song from top to bottom the same way every time, especially if the song is a cover, it has to sound exactly the same. Our goal with The Kingsmen Blues was to empower them to improvise and to let their own individual musicality and personality shine with their solos. Our electric guitar player was really excited to tell us that during his solo, he moved closer to the stage and went for it, because he has seen rock stars do that before, which was such a great thing for him! 

This event just made me realize even more how much talent and potential all of these individuals in the band have, and sometimes for them to reach their full potential, you may have to push them outside of their comfort zone. Even if they resist and may not like it at first, it can really help their confidence and self esteem, and they can learn a lot about themselves and improve as musicians as well. 

I’d love to hear from you! If you give adapted lessons, what are some of the ways you empower your clients to step out of their comfort zone? 

See you in the next post!

-Juliana Hsu

You ARE Capable!: Starting your Music Therapy Internship

Hey, everyone! My name is Audrey and I am just finishing up week two of my internship at The Music Therapy Center of California! I wanted to give you all a couple tips on how to survive your first couple weeks of internship, and some encouragement for the journey are about to embark on! 

First, you will experience a whole new level of exhaustion. Now, I know what you’re thinking- How could anything be as exhausting as studying music therapy: taking upwards to 21 credits, ensembles, rehearsals, practicum sites, tests, homework, attempting a personal life, and time for yourself?! While those things are exhausting, starting your internship is a whole new ballgame! Unlike in school, you have to be “on” all day. When interacting with supervisors, clients, parents, other therapists, and anyone else you come across, you always have to put forth your best self and always be professional! After my first day of internship, I came home and fell asleep within 30 minutes-I even forgot to eat (oops. Don’t do that. Self-care, folks!). Taking every opportunity you can to rest in a way that works for you will give you energy for the next day.


Because of how exhausted you will become, rest is more important than ever during internship. You have to learn what works best for YOU. I am an extrovert, so I found that I personally don’t need a lot of time in my evenings or weekends by myself or doing things such as watching TV, reading, or laying in bed. I have found that I am best filled up and energized by spending time with people I enjoy and being active! This has been a challenge moving to a place where I know nobody, and living alone, but I have found ways to stay connected with people who are important to me! Find what you need-whether that be spending your time alone, exercising, hanging out with friends, napping (always a yes), journaling, or whatever works for you! Give yourself time to figure out what fills you up, so you can pour out on others!

Second, TAKE NOTES. Your first couple of weeks is a whirlwind, and you can’t possibly remember everything that you have to do or everything you have seen. I observed so many therapists my first two weeks, I had to make notes at the end of the day about things I admired in the other therapists’ work, things to remember, and ideas that came to mind throughout the day. I created a notebook with sections about my internship to help me retain all of the info, which will be a great tool to have when I am done!

Third, attitude is everything. I’ve only barely started and this has already become a huge lesson for me. Yes, things will be hard. Yes, you will be working a lot and likely unpaid. Yes, things won’t always go as planned. Despite all of this, you still have control over your own attitude and the way you react. I have already made mistakes throughout internship, but that is how you learn! Internship is likely one of the last times you will ever get this close of supervision and feedback, so soak up as much as possible! Choosing to take this time as a huge learning experience, instead of just a box to check off will make a huge difference. You will get out of it what you put in. Plus, you chose this internship. Remember when you applied and couldn’t wait to hear back? Keep it all in perspective! 

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Lastly, internship is a huge time of self-discovery and learning about yourself. Soon before coming to my internship, I learned about the Enneagram. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, the Enneagram is essentially a personality test that puts you into one of nine personality types. When I found out I was a six, the loyalist, I was surprised by how accurate it was. Through my Enneagram number, I have realized that I am someone who doubts myself a lot. I know I am talented and a hard worker, but I often jump to worse case scenarios and worry that I am not good enough.I have to remind myself that I was chosen for this internship, and I am 100% capable as long as I am willing to learn. One of my favorite artists, Sleeping At Last, wrote a song for each enneagram type, and the song he wrote about my Enneagram type (Atlas: Six) has resonated so deeply with me, particularly for this time in my life at internship. I am far from family, friends, living in a completely new place, being pushed to new levels in my career, and trying to find my way. One of my favorite lyrics in his song says “Maybe I’m stronger than I realize.”

Maybe YOU are stronger than you realize. Internship will be hard and there will be things that you don’t know if you can handle, but it is all a part of the process, as long as you are willing to let it change and grow you. You got this!!

For anyone who wants to learn about their Enneagram type! I highly suggest it:

See you in the next post!








Session Planning: Using Themes!

Hi there everyone, and welcome to another blog post! 

This week, we’re going to talk themes! Before internship, I never really thought about centering my session around a theme. However, it’s a great option to help plan your session for several reasons which we will break down more later, including…

  1. It can help clients with reality orientation
  2. Centers the session around a specific topic
  3. Helps the therapist narrow down songs and interventions to use 
  4. Educate clients about topics that may be unfamiliar to them


  1. It can help clients with reality orientation

Choosing themes to center your session around based off of the current season or holiday is a great way to orient your clients to the here and now (for example, what time of year it is, important events, time of day, etc.). For example, in July, we did summer themed sessions in our older adult groups and at group homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. September 23rd was the official first day of fall, so we started doing fall themed session plans that week. During August, we also did a “back to school” theme. There are endless options for themes to incorporate, and the fall/winter is a great time to use themes with all of the holidays, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, winter, etc. 

  1. Centers the session around a specific topic

When starting out as an intern or student, often times, it can be difficult to smoothly transition between different interventions and songs that you use. However, if your session centers around a specific topic, it can be much easier to tie together everything that you are doing in a session. For example, for our “back to school” theme, we first started with a PSE intervention and used the song “School Days”. Afterwards, while you’re getting the next intervention ready, you can tie together the previous intervention by saying something like, “Not only are elementary aged kids also going back to school, but college kids are moving into their dorms and starting back at school too! Something fun that a lot of college students participate in include going to football games and watching the marching band! Let’s get our muscles moving by playing in our own drum circle and making our very own band!” Then, you can smoothly transition into TIMP by doing a drum circle. 

  1. Helps the therapist narrow down songs and interventions to use

So. Many. Songs. To. Choose. From. This is a great problem to have, but can often be quite overwhelming when choosing what songs to use in your sessions! However, if you choose a theme, it immensely narrows down songs you can use that will fit your theme. Google is your best friend when it comes to this. For example, are you doing a fall themed session plan? No problem! Type in “fall-themed songs” into Google, and it will automatically pop up the most popular songs in that category. This also fits into what we talked about above, where it can center your session around a specific topic if you choose songs that fit into a similar category. Some songs that we have used in a summer-themed session plan include: 

  • Summer of ‘69
  • Under the Boardwalk
  • Surfin’ Safari 
  • Hot, Hot, Hot
  • Jump in the Line 
  • Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
  • My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
  • In the Good Old Summertime
  • Under the Sea 
  • Let’s Go Fly A Kite
  • Summertime
  • Blue Skies
  • Any Beach Boys song!
  1. Educate clients about topics that may be unfamiliar to them

Choosing different themes is also a great way to educate clients on topics that they may not have a lot of opportunities to learn about. For example, we are currently doing a camping theme for our adult groups with ID/DD, which also ties into fall. A lot of clients most likely have not had the opportunity to go camping, so this is another educational opportunity for them to learn something new. For this session plan, I have different visuals that correlate to different interventions, and I allow clients to pick a visual out of a drum, or I hold up two options for them to choose from. This also gives them the power of choice. For example, there is a visual of a picnic table, and then that correlates with our “question of the day”, which asks clients what their favorite camping snack food is. I also facilitate upper body PSE by using scarves as kites, and a movement intervention with a parachute as the “tent”. Afterwards, our visuals each have velcro, and they stick onto a larger visual that makes an entire camping scene. I have included a photo of my visual below:

To make this visual, I printed out and laminated a generic forest background. Then, I googled stock images, cut out and laminated the visuals, and then finally put velcro squares on different parts of the background picture and my visuals. If you want to save yourself some time from making your own visuals, there are already lots of ready-made visuals that you can find on Pinterest or teacher websites! 

Some more examples of different themes you can use for teaching topics include world music, surfing, show tunes, movies, love songs and sports! 

I want to hear from you! What are some themes that you use?

Thank you for reading and see you in the next post!

-Juliana Hsu