Autistic Children; Watching for Developmental Learning Cues

I have talked in many of my blogs on behavior being communication, stim behaviors as being useful and each person being unique, label or not. In today’s blog, I would like to show you an example of how utilizing music therapy has helped put these concepts into practice.

In October 2011, I acquired a four year old , non-verbal, autistic little girl. I will call her Emily. Emily came into Music Therapy for the first time squealing  with delight at all that was happening. The very first session, several pop out words were elicited. This is what her IEP (written five months earlier ) stated: “Emily was seen for a complete speech/language evaluation. She is non-verbal and does not utilize gestures or pointing to communicate… Emily does have tantrums and likes to line up objects. She also likes to turn pages in books… Emily does not request items at home or in the community. Emily has a tss worker who is currently working on motor imitation, categorizing pictures and objects and manding for (4 specific words), by signing for these items. Emily requires models for these mands and also hand over hand assistance. Emily is not currently working on any receptive language tasks at this time. Expressively, Emily had difficulty with the following: imitating words, utilizing 5-10 words; utilizing vocalizations and gestures to request, and babbling short strings with inflection patterns.”

It was evident, with her attraction to the music and how easily words popped out, there was a very good chance at acquiring language in Music Therapy.

In the classroom of behavioral, developmentally delayed and autistic children, Emily came in the classroom daily crying and whining . This continued on and off through her half day stay for months. After about the second Music Therapy session, Emily found my crate of books. Emily is now working on two word phrases. This is a video clip of her six months (March 2012) after beginning Music Therapy:

Emily’s mother told me the only change she has had since this language explosion is her participation in Music Therapy. At this particular session, I had planned to video tape, Emily had previously taken out Eric Carle’s “Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?” Never before could Emily wait long enough for the question to be asked. Today was a new day and a very good one. She has been labeling items in Music Therapy but today was beginning to answer questions. Notice how repeated tones in a repeated phrase helps Emily to get the word “Yes” out when it becomes stuck.

Some sessions are better “language” sessions than others, in which case Emily remains at the piano with her books. When Emily is having a difficult day getting out what she wants, she leaves the piano and books and just plays music with me allowing pop out word to flow out continuously. She has developed this habit of stress relief after Christmas this year.

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