How Music Therapy Prepares Students with Autism for Success

How Music Therapy Prepares Students with Autism for Success

People of all ages and conditions can benefit from music therapy, from children with autism to elderly people in senior living communities. Through non-verbal musical activity, a music therapist can help individuals improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Music therapy is used to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, neurological disorders, and even heart disease. For students with autism, music therapy is instrumental (pun intended) in developing the social, motor, emotional, communication and academic skills they need to succeed in school and in life. In addition to supporting overall development, music also benefits students by providing motivation as they work on general school success skills.

Music Therapy for Autism and other disabilities at Spero Academy

Alanna Williamson leads Spero’s evidence-based music therapy program. She became a Board Certified Music Therapist in 2001 and has worked at Spero for the past three years. In her words, her role as a music therapist is to help Spero students accomplish non-musical goals through music. Some of those goals include: social challenges that come with autism, gross motor movement, fine motor movement, and self-awareness.

Music Therapy Supports Learning and Development for Students with Autism

The principle behind music therapy is that developing musical skills and participating in musical experiences helps support other areas of learning and development. At Spero, Alanna structures her music classes to incorporate goals students are pursuing in occupational therapy and physical therapy in order to maximize learning.

For example, Alanna said, “Spinning in place is grounding for many students, so we’ll spin while we create music. Or if the students are working on projecting their volume in speech therapy, we’ll work on volume projection in music class. We set individualized music therapy goals for each student, connecting the overall goals of the grade to the individual student’s personal goals and needs.”

Alanna works with all 110 students that attend Spero, going from classroom to classroom throughout the week so that each student receives music class twice every week. During class, students have the opportunity to explore many different genres, instruments, and methods of making music. The students’ hard work culminates in two concert performances a year, which are a much-anticipated occasion for students, staff, and families alike.

“It’s been working well going classroom to classroom,” Alanna said, “but I am really excited to move into the new building next summer and have my own space. There’s so much more we’ll be able to do with a designated music classroom!”

The Transforming Effect of Music Therapy

In her time at Spero, Alanna has seen the transforming effect music has on her students. One of her current classes is a smaller class with students at many social levels mixed together. When she first starting working with this group, she didn’t know whether they could sing at all and some of the students didn’t even know her name. They needed prompting to return her greeting at the start of class. Now when she walks into the room, she said, “They all say Mrs. Alanna is here. They’ve memorized all the concert songs, and they’re excited for the Winter Concert.”

A Strong Spero Community

Beyond the students, Alanna said what makes Spero such a special place is the support she receives from fellow teachers and faculty. “The teacher support is fantastic! We are all here for each other. Whether we’re having problems with specific students or there’s a larger challenge, the staff is just always there to help,” she said. “The support we give each other goes back to the students, helping us to help them grow and learn.”

“My first year at Spero, I was told I needed to put together the Winter Concert for the students and families,” said Alanna. “I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, but the students sang their songs and everyone on the faculty pulled together to help me make the concert a success.”

The Winter Concert is always a hit with students and families alike. "I love how the Spero staff finds a way for every kid to be a part of the holiday concerts,” said Shannan Paul, a Spero parent. “They do a great job of including every child in a way that best showcases their abilities. As a parent, I'm always so proud to see my son be a part of the performances."

To learn more about music therapy at Spero Academy, visit the Music Therapy page or contact Alanna at awilliamson@spero.academy.