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

No Therapy Is An Island

You’ll hear music therapists tell you time and time again, “Music therapy is an EVIDENCE BASED field!” What we do it backed by empirical research, and we’re very proud of this fact. However, the fact that the field is supported by research showing the efficacy of using music as a therapeutic tool for accomplishing non-musical goals does not make music therapy a lone-ranger in the world of therapies. There’s a key phrase I used in the previous sentence: “non-musical goals”. This means that the goals we are addressing in music therapy are similar to the goals our client’s are working on in their other therapies (speech, occupational, physical, behavioral, and cognitive rehabilitation therapies, etc.). So, in the Neurologic Music Therapy branch of our field, in particular, when setting up our interventions for addressing a non-musical goal, we like to use a model called the Transformational Design Model (TDM).

Transformational Design Model! It sounds like a superpower. And in a way, it is. It’s the superpower model that transforms non-musical interventions into musical interventions. Because music therapy has the same functional structure as other therapies, music therapists use this model to see where the overlap is with other fields, and then how the addition of music to a treatment intervention can benefit the client. But wait, there’s more! This superpower model transforms the functional music intervention into functional, non-musical real-world application. In short, we’re not going to let you walk around singing the steps to making conversation. We’re going to help you generalize the information you learned through music, so that when you apply it to everyday life, you’re doing it in a socially acceptable and sustainable (functional) way.

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I know you’re dying to find out how one mere mortal can acquire such a superpower. Well, lucky for you, we can let you in on the bare bones of the model. I take myself through these steps every time I develop an intervention for a client, and it helps ensure the quality and efficacy of my interventions. Ok, are you ready to be transformed?

  1. Asses the client’s strengths and needs
  2. Develop the goals and objectives
  3. Research how a non-music therapist addresses this same goal and design a functional non-musical intervention
  4. Translate step 3 into a functional musical intervention
  5. Transfer step 4 to functional, non-musical real-life application

This model is a superpower not just in the fact that it transforms a non-musical skills into a musical experience and then back into a non-musical skill, but also in the fact that it allows multiple therapeutic fields to see their overlap. The more therapists from varying fields can work together, the more well-rounded the treatment plan becomes, and the more the client will benefit. Go transform something!

-Chiara

Something’s Touching Me!

Your body is always touching SOMETHING. What an interesting thought that most people don’t spend too much time dwelling on. That’s because the brain with a well-regulated tactile sense only briefly makes note of the thing that the body is touching, and then ignores it in favor of more important thoughts and sensations it needs to process. But for a person whose tactile sense is out-of-sync, the textures of certain fabrics or presence of a tag on their clothing may be a source of extreme discomfort and the cause for much distress. Or they may lunge at you for a bear hug because they crave the feeling of deep pressure squeezes. Or they may not seem to notice that their hand is on a hot pan until they have a third degree burn. These are only a few examples, of course. The main point is, our tactile sense helps us determine what we are touching and if the things touching us at every moment of every day are harmful or helpful. An out-of-sync tactile sense may make a person overresponsive to stimuli, underresponsive to stimuli, sensory seeking, or a combination of these, or may make it difficult to determine what the tactile stimulus is or where it is touching.

How does this affect my work as a music therapist? I can start by considering the environment of my treatment space. What is the client’s reaction to the texture of the chair he/she is sitting in? For some of my clients with tactile sensory needs, sitting on a fuzzy pillow that buzzes provides the tactile sensations they need to be aware and in control of their bodies. For other clients, sitting on a rubbery and bumpy cushion serves this same purpose. What is the client’s reaction to the carpet? I have clients who prefer to have their shoes off during sessions. One such client likes having the afore mentioned rubbery cushion under his feet. From which direction is the air conditioning blowing and is it blowing directly on my client? I’ve barely scratched the surface of tactile elements to consider in the environment of the treatment room, but you get the picture.

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What about my choice of instruments I use with my clients? Does the client seem to want to touch textured things? I have many clients who are more engaged in our interventions when they play an instrument like the cabasa (picture below), which allows them to rub their fingers along the bumpy beads. Other ideas of instruments with great sensory feedback are guitar strings, chimes, hand drums, ocean drums, and resonator bells. The cabasa is one of my favorite instruments because it acts as a great massager, providing sensory input to arms, legs, backs, and soles of feet. For clients who are seeking tactile sensory stimulation, instruments like the cabasa can provide this in an appropriate way. Encourage the client to play the cabasa (or other instrument) and use it to provide sensory input independently. This way, the client is learning to self-regulate his/her out-of-sync sensory systems.

 

3317_cabasa_a.jpgOr for clients with an overresponsive tactile sense, choose instruments that don’t have a rough or uneven texture. Then encourage them to explore tactile sensations using the texture and vibrations of various instruments. This could help reduce defensiveness to certain tactile sensations.
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As with all other sensory systems, there are so many things to consider when your child or client has an out-of-sync tactile system. Hopefully the ideas and considerations discussed here have sparked some ideas and increased your awareness of needs related to the tactile sense. Now, I challenge you to stop every now and then and become aware of the sensations on your skin and the things touching your body. Then imagine what it would be like if you could not seem to get enough of or control one of these sensations. How would you fix that?

-Chiara

A season of Rock Stars!

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This past week, Banding Together’s Spring season of Jam Sessions came to a bittersweet end.  Throughout the past 5 months of being an intern, Jam Sessions became one of my weekly highlights and I will treasure some very special moments and memories from my first season being a mentor with Banding Together.

This Jam season I learned to watch, listen, and learn (in that order!).  I truly learned so much from observing the mentors/volunteers interact with and encourage participants as well as from participants being genuine friends to one another.  In my experience as an intern, so often I am jumping into things – taking leadership and problem solving – that this experience proved to be a very important opportunity for me to sit back and learn from watching others.  The patience, wisdom, and gentle, humble leadership I observed in other mentors taught me to be more aware of myself and to consistently encourage clients to be the absolute best they can be.

Another highlight from this season, was having the privilege of seeing participants experience such excitement and sheer joy when Jason Mraz performed as a Guest Musician.  This was such a special night of sharing in music with someone who has touched the world with his message and gift.  Thank you, Jason!

Lastly, Jam Sessions proved to be a complete blast!  The dance moves, the drum circle grooves, the action leader skills, personalities shining through with solos or at the mic, the relationships deepened and laughs shared… for me it was a true expression of the power and joy of making music with others.

On a final side note, Chiara and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while taking the “Dress up as your favorite rock star!” prompt to heart.  Enjoy these pics of us as Jelena (Justin and Selena), Sonny and Cher, and Billary (Bill and Hillary).  (Oh, the many perks of being an intern!)

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That’s a wrap for our Spring session – here’s to another great one this fall!

Cheers!

-Marissa

The Coolest Internship EVER

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Banding Together’s Jam Sessions provide youth with special needs with an opportunity to come together for a one-hour jam session where we play drums, sing songs, dance and have a great time with friends. After EVERY Jam Session, I leave feeling completely inspired, full of enthusiasm for life and a heart full of love and appreciation. I always feel incredibly grateful to be involved with this organization but I also feel the desire to share it with others. I want everyone to know how amazing these youth are and how music therapy allows them to shine at their brightest.

On February 12th, 2016 that desire to share with others became a reality. Banding Together was recognized by professional skateboarder/snowboarder, two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White and his band Bad Things! We were invited to a secret show by Bad Things, sponsored by San Diego’s local radio station 91X. We all arrived and got to hang out with the members of Bad Things, rock out with them, take pictures with Shaun White and just plain ol’ have a good time. The best part of it all was getting to see the Jam Session participants in an inclusive environment, thrilled by this unique and exclusive opportunity just for them

When I started internship, I had no idea that I would get to hang out with the coolest people ever and get to go to events with celebrities sponsored by radio stations! Every week I get to jam and hang out with the best of the best! This is definitely one of my top internship highlights.

-Kristin

Beauty

I want to open this post with a funny, quirky but beautiful moment of life that we can take for granted and sometimes pass over.

For example, hitting every green light on your way to work when you are running late. (This happened to me last week) I find it amazing and (beautiful) that the quirks of life lined up at that moment and were able to help me out. Continuing on this driving topic, I also find beauty whenever someone cuts me off on the highway and then I pass them 5 minutes later because they got stuck behind a semi. That is a moment for car dancing

I cannot write a blog post without writing about the scenery here. San Diego is a beautiful place from its manmade structures to natural ones. One place that I find beauty in is watching the sun set over the ocean from my deck, the view in perfect. Sometimes when the sun sets you can see an island off the ocean, I didn’t even know it existed until two weeks ago when I saw it for the first time wondering what that giant piece of land was. In the same way, the whole island of Coronado is also breathtaking, especially the bridge! Being on the island and seeing downtown San Diego on the other side of the water is amazing, there are so many different colors, sounds, and buildings.

I thought I would end in something I find beautiful about music therapy. This past Tuesday I brought and played my viola for the first time for an older adult, special needs, group setting. One of the clients across the room starting tapping her chin repeatedly, the aid close by kept saying, “Wow! I have never seen here do anything like that before! She never acts like this!” I came directly over to the client and began playing to her, again she kept patting her chin. The client was signing thank you over and over again. It was a beautiful moment to be a part of. In the small piece of time I was able to reach here and communicate with her through music.

Which leads me into saying the music is beauty and I am so happy to be in a profession where I can be surrounded by it every day.

Beth