How Do You Help a Child Cope with Loss?

Question MarkThe other day I read a thought-provoking blog post by a mother of a child on the autism spectrum.  She posed the question: “How do you introduce the concept of death to a child who has autism, which means that 1) he has trouble understanding the abstract, and instead focuses on the very real and the very concrete and 2) he is prone to perseverating on issues and can zero in on a single topic for hours, days, or weeks at a time?”

It’s a question without a concrete answer, I’m afraid.  After all, it’s difficult enough for most of us to wrap our heads around the idea of death, let alone a child with autism.  It’s also something that no one really enjoys talking about, which further complicates the situation.

Reading that blog post took me back a couple of years to a custom music therapy song I wrote.  I received an email from a mother of a teenage son with autism (we’ll call him Tim, though that is not his real name) who had just lost his grandmother, who also happened to be his best friend.  The grandmother had been ill for some time, and when she passed away, Tim was told that the angels took her to heaven and that people who go to heaven do not come back.  Tim didn’t fully understand this, and he communicated his frustration through physical aggression.

Tim’s mother asked me to write a song that not only conveyed this information, but also explained that it is okay to cry and miss his grandmother, but it is not okay to be mean and hurt people because he misses her.  Tim loved country music, so I wrote a country song called “Heaven is a Place for the Angels” for him.

Just as every child with autism is unique, so are every family’s spiritual beliefs and ways of coping with loss.  This particular song really helped Tim as he grieved, but I would take an entirely different approach with another child.  And if that doesn’t quite work, I’ll try another way, and another.  Trial and error, I guess, is my best answer.  What about you?

The blog I referred to at the beginning of this post is called MOM-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified), and you can read it here.

Sunday Singalong: Picture Schedule Song

This week’s video is super short, but the picture schedule song is an important part of every music therapy session (and certain classes) I lead. It sets the tone and lets my student(s) know what to expect, as well as what my expectations for them are.

The post I refer to in the video is a tutorial on creating schedule cards.  Way back when I first started making them (including most of the cards you saw above) I used Boardmaker, but now I prefer finding my own pictures. It’s just more fun that way :)

Now go out and enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend, and I’ll do the same.  Happy Labor Day!  See you back here soon.

The Green Grass Grew All Around

Green Grass Grows All Around

Admittedly, I didn’t know this song when I first started my career as a music therapist.  I quickly learned it, though, after realizing that I might very well be the only person on earth (or at least at The Hope Institute) that didn’t.  Because my students requested it so often, I decided to turn a “fun” song into a “fun-ctional” one.

There are three general goal areas I can target this song.  They are 1) Color Identification; 2) Memory; and 3) Working as a Group (which falls under the umbrella of social skills).  I’ll explain how I address each goal below.

Phew! That is a LOT of words. I’m impressed that I can sing the entire thing from memory, let alone my students :) Here’s a way to make it a little easier while also targeting the goals that I listed above.

Take a piece of light blue posterboard or foamboard. Cover the width of the bottom 6 inches or so with green construction paper, and then you’ve got your grass on the ground and sky above. Color a hole in the middle of the grass section (I just use a brown marker for this). Then comes the fun part: create each item listed in the song — a tree, limb, branch, twig, nest, egg, and bird — using cardstock, markers, construction paper, and whatever else you want. In fact, this makes for a great art project for your students. You may want to laminate the items so that they hold up. Attach a small piece of velcro to the back of each, and the other side of velcro to the posterboard so that they can be easily attached to the correct spot.

Let each student take his or her turn placing an item on the posterboard and identifying the color of that item. With the visual aide, it’s much easier to remember what logically comes next in the song (for you and the students!). At the end of the song, your students have worked as a group to create an entire scene.

If I’m just singing this song for fun with a group and don’t have the resources for the full activity, I’ll pass out green egg shakers and ask the children to shake them only when the “green grass” is mentioned. Talk about impulse control!

Imagine: A New Early Childhood Magazine

Happy September!  Today marks not only the beginning of a new month, but also the official release of a brand new early childhood online magazine.  Imagine is sponsored by the American Music Therapy Association and edited by Dr. Petra Kern, who serves as president of the World Federation of Music Therapy.

The inaugural issue contains over 50 contributions from 10 countries, including:

  • latest research, trends, and clinical strategies
  • interactive digital viewing mode
  • podcasts, photo stories, teaching episodes
  • international “color of us” series
  • newsletter archive
  • early childhood network platform
  • an event calendar

I had the opportunity to contribute a resource list (pg. 91)  — a joint effort between myself and Michelle Erfurt — as well as an original podcast on the topic of my Sunday Singalong videos (pg. 93).  It is quite an impressive publication, and I hope you’ll take some time to check it out!

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