Posted by Madison Kronheim

A version of this article was first published in the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development Newsletter. In addition to working as a music therapist at JF&CS, Madison is also pursuing a master’s degree in special education at BU Wheelock.

For the past year, I have worked as a board-certified music therapist for two JF&CS programs: Kids’ Connection Corner and HALO Swim & Sing. Kids’ Connection Corner is a free program for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) where we focus on building social skills through arts and crafts, outdoor play, and music therapy. HALO Swim & Sing is a respite program for kids and young adults with neurological disabilities where participants receive music therapy services and go swimming in a pool with trained staff.

Building Skills Through Music

Music therapy is the clinical use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals in a therapeutic setting. Research has supported the use of music therapy for those with ASD to assist in speech, motor, academic, and behavioral objectives. For many people with ASD, music therapy can be a successful way to work on flexibility in activities within a structured environment. The benefits of music therapy can include reduced anxiety, enhanced body awareness and coordination, verbalization, increased attention to task, and increased appropriate social behavior. These skills are also accessible for people with neurological disabilities since music has been scientifically proven to activate both sides of the brain at the same time.

During my music therapy sessions, I play instruments or recorded music based on the theme of the week, which usually has to do with seasons, holidays, or other events happening during the year. With the assistance of other staff members, I prompt students to play specific rhythms, sing, dance, and play other games. While the kids are doing these tasks, they are working on fine/gross motor skills, self-regulation, and appropriate social behaviors without even realizing it. This time that we spend together creates a sense of community among the participants and gives them the confidence that they deserve.

Striking the Right Chord

Because life happens, I always have a backup plan in case the mood changes or a lesson is not working. I find it important to match the energy in the room. Through an evidence-based practice called the “iso-principle”, I try to match the energy of the participants and then gradually change the music to where I’d like them to be.

In the end, I want everyone to feel good about themselves, regardless of ability. I am the luckiest person in the world to do what I do and learn from my participants how neurodiversity makes the world a better place.

To learn more about our programs for people with disabilities, visit our CHAI Services page.