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CNN iReport: Music Therapy and Autism

April 2, 2012 03:31 PM

Amy's Challenging but Joyful Journey

(Video & story in response to invitation from CNN iReport to submit a short video for their "Life with Autism" feature  Written and submitted by Board Certified Music Therapist, Cathy Knoll, MA, MT-BC.)

My friend Amy has participated in music therapy since she was diagnosed with autism as a pre-schooler. She participates in music therapy each week with her class at school and in weekly sessions w/her mom at my home studio. This short video clip illustrates Amy's love for music. She plays melodies on piano using letter cues, plays guitar by tapping rather than strumming, and plays drums with great enthusiasm - the louder the better. She sings songs repetitively under her breath, and, until recently, became agitated if interrupted. Amy has very marked sensory issues that can interfere with daily life. Over the years, she has gradually begun to demonstrate more flexibility, tolerance, awareness of others, and participation in group activities, but she has struggled with a number of challenges. She was easily agitated, unconnected with people and events around her, and unwilling (or unable) to stay in a chair. Amy can be obsessed with certain routines, objects, places, people, and repetitive scripts and songs that loop continually. She has gone through long phases when she did not like wearing clothing, tended to escape and run, or made very loud noises accompanied by large, repetitive motions. Amy has had difficulty with language/communication, sleeping, eating, toileting, and other issues impacting her daily life. In general terms, our target goals in music therapy have been to capture her attention, encourage active participation in music-making, increase her recognition of and interaction with other people, decrease her agitation and potentially hurtful behaviors, increase compliance, increase contentment, increase leisure time choices, expand her music interests and repertoire, and develop practical strategies to share with family members and teaches for dealing with challenging issues at home and school. The video clip demonstrates her progress in target areas, and, more importantly, it captures the sheer joy and love of life oozing out of our sweet Amy.