Fall Freebie Alert!

Free Fall Song Download

If you aren’t familiar with Tuned Into Learning®, then there is no better time to hop on over and check out this amazing resource. Their collection of music for special education is unparalleled, and I am beyond flattered to have the opportunity to offer one of my songs as a free download today. Get the “Fall, Fall, Fall” mp3, instrumental mp3, and lead sheet here.

Tuned in to Learning® helps special learners ‘tune in’ through the powerful medium of music.  They offer a wide range of special education songs and curriculum designed by an Autism Specialist and team of Board Certified Music Therapists. Their songs, books, videos and downloads help teach essential skills to students with autism, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, brain injury, learning disabilities, speech disorders, orthopedic impairments, and other special needs.

It’s awesome to have so many high quality options when it comes to finding new material for my work with kiddos who have special needs. After you download my fall freebie, be sure to check out all that Tuned in to Learning® has to offer!

Sensational Ideas for Working With Children With Autism (Part 1)

I’m currently on maternity leave, and many of my colleagues have been kind enough to share their expertise via guest posts throughout the summer. The following comes to you from Amy Kalas, MM, MT-BC.

Child on therapy ball

I am constantly on the lookout for ways to improve my skills as a music therapist, aren’t you?

I find it fun and motivating to discover more and more effective ideas for engaging children in music therapy and connecting with them through music.

The children I work with at both my full-time job at UCP’s Early Beginnings Academy and in my private practice, Wholesome Harmonies, are primarily diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

One of the main things that enhanced my work with these children is co-treating with occupational therapists who specialize in sensory integration. Through these co-treatments, I began to learn about the unique sensory needs of children with ASD and brainstorm how I can address those needs in a therapeutic music experience.

In a session where I have children who are “sensory-seeking” (those are the ones jumping and crashing into things, seeking sensory input), I always ‘start with sensory.’I’ve found that if I “feed” that sensory need by providing the children with a sensory integration experience such as jumping on the trampoline or bouncing on the therapy ball, they are better able to attend to and engage in the subsequent music therapy activities.

Here is a video showcasing an example of one sensory integration experience I use in my sessions with children with ASD:

In this video, the children are receiving proprioceptive and vestibular input by bouncing on a therapy ball, while the music is organizing the whole experience. The lyrics cue the children to bounce and stop; and the rhythmic beat and tempo tell the children how fast to be bouncing. All these elements work together to create an experience that is appropriate and beneficial to the children.

This activity can be extended by having the children move in different ways on the therapy ball: they could lay on the ball on their stomach and bounce up and down, or they could lay on the ball on their stomach and roll front two back, using their arms and legs to push themselves back and forth (I hear a nice 6/8 accompaniment in my head for this one!)

The ideas are endless…why not meet with an occupational therapist and find out some other ways you can utilize the therapy ball in your music therapy sessions?

This is just Part One of a series I am starting on Music Therapy & Sensory Integration on my blog, Wholesome Harmonies. Want to stay up to date on the next installments? Click here to hop on the list!

Amy Kalas, MM, MT-BCAmy Kalas, MM, MT-BC is a board-certified music therapist with eight years of experience working with children and adolescents with special needs. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy (2005) and Master’s degree in Music Therapy (2010) from University of Miami. Amy has been employed at United Cerebral Palsy of Miami as a music therapist, practicum supervisor, and internship director since 2006. She recently accepted the position of Interim Professor of Music Therapy at University of Miami.

Amy is also the owner of Wholesome Harmonies, LLC, where she provides music therapy services in the Miami area. She is the author of two E-Books: Tuneful Teens: Creative Ideas for Engaging Adolescents in Music Therapy and Sensational Songs & Ideas: Sensory-Based Ideas for Music Therapy. You can visit the website and blog for Wholesome Harmonies at www.WHmusictherapy.com.

How I Feel

How I Feel

Lots of kiddos with autism, including many of my past and present clients, have a hard time expressing how they are feeling both physically and emotionally. Some are non-verbal, while others don’t have the language to adequately explain their feelings. As we know, this can leave them feeling frustrated and even more upset, especially if they need help or are feeling bad.

One of my clients was struggling with this issue, so her mom came up with the idea to compose short, simple songs based on familiar melodies for her range of feelings. The hope was that when my client was feeling a particular way, she could express herself through song rather than words.

The approach to making these songs effective communicative tools involved first introducing them to my client, singing them again and again so she became familiar with them (she picks up songs very quickly). Then, when her behavior obviously reflected a particular feeling or emotion, her family members and teachers would begin singing the corresponding song and prompt my client to sing along.

She has already made some great progress expressing herself through these songs, and hopefully they are useful to others out there. Have you used a similar technique for helping non- or less verbal kiddos express how they are feeling?

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.

Autism & Alleluias

I hadn’t planned on writing a post today, but I just finished reading a book and wanted to share it with you.  In Autism & Alleluias, author Kathleen Deyer Bolduc gives us a glimpse into life with Joel, her son.  Joel, like so many of the children who touch my life and yours, is diagnosed with autism.

Each chapter tells a story or experience, such as Joel’s touching visit with his grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease (a chapter that especially affected me) and his special relationships with friends and caregivers.  But of course, as we all know, autism often makes life very difficult.  In addition to the good, Kathy candidly writes about the bad and the ugly, including Joel’s meltdowns, struggles with finding the right medication, and the questions about Joel’s future as an adult.

Kathy’s faith led her to the moments of clarity and beauty she details in her book.  Even in the most seemingly hopeless situations, she discovers the “alleluias” in them.  Sometimes they are buried or don’t appear until days or weeks later, but they are there.  One of my favorites was Kathy’s struggle with the fact that her son was being trained as a trash collector during high school.  As she meditated on this reality, the words trash man for heaven came to mind.  This phrase helped her accept the fact that Joel was humbly and obediently making the world around him a better place, and likewise, let her fully accept and be thankful for his job. (Fun fact: the college music therapy student Joel was working with at the time wrote a little ditty about this job, which became one of his favorite songs).

Kathy’s story is deeply rooted in her Presbyterian faith, but her message – the importance of valuing, honoring, and enjoying the unexpected gifts of children with special needs – is universal.  I laughed, cried and related (as someone who works with children who have autism on a daily basis) while reading.

And in the spirit of National Autism Awareness Month, I would love to pass this book on to a Listen & Learn reader.  The first person to email me (be sure to include your full name and mailing address, as well as your connection to autism) will receive my copy in the mail this week.  For those of you who would like your own copy, you can purchase the book here.