A Wonderful Day

Today was an awesome, exciting and wonderful all in one package, all gift wrapped with a bow. I will just write a summary of the days events and apologize for the brevity of this entry.

It was my official confirmation and the official start day at my new job at Walmart. I will be working in the Electronics Department.  I start next Thursday, and have four hours for the day, which is a good start. I know the first four hours are Orientation, followed by Friday off, the courses of are computer based training which is broken down into several modules.

I hopefully can finish the first modules Saturday, which I hope will be a full eight hour day. I’m really excited to be on the sales floor.

That’s the highlight reel of the day.

Here’s pretty picture just to have something nice to look at.

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Keys To A Successful Asperger’s Marriage

Understanding the impact of Asperger’s is key to a successful marriage.

Can two people have a successful marriage if one has Asperger’s and the other doesn’t? Yes, provided that both partners understand two things: how Asperger’s affects the person who has it and how Asperger’s affects the marital relationship itself.

Together with the desire to prevail, these two concepts provide the necessary ingredients to turn a disappointing, unsatisfying relationship into a successful, intimate marriage.

Here are suggestions for improving a marriage between someone with Asperger’s and a non-Asperger’s, or neurotypical (NT), partner.

• For the partner with Asperger’s, consider that your NT spouse is probably right when he or she tells you how you contribute to the marital problems. It’s likely, for example, you do have difficulty perceiving subtle social cues. You may not be adept at detecting emotional reactions. You probably dislike conflict and are prone to hear differences of opinion as criticism about you. Typically, negative emotions are difficult for you, and when that happens you may refuse to communicate and/or lash out in a hurtful way.

Accept your partner’s feedback about these challenges. At the very least, given them thought and consideration.

• Listen! So often, the NT spouse just wants to be heard. If he or she knows you are listening, tension and conflict can be avoided. Communication is the first thing to go when a marriage is breaking down, so devote yourself to listening to what your partner wants to tell you. Ask for clarification of things you don’t understand and do so in a nondefensive, respectful way.

• For the NT partner, shift your focus away from what you are not getting from your Asperger’s partner to the positive qualities he or she brings to your relationship. Dwelling only on what is negative drives your Asperger’s partner away and is a recipe for perpetual unhappiness.

• Your Asperger’s partner’s rituals, routines, and quirks are not meant to hurt you. They happen because of the condition he or she has. You don’t have to like them but try not to take them personally. Accepting your partner’s differences and knowing that he or she cares is crucial to the overall success of your marriage and is one of the decisive factors in saving an unhappy marriage.

• In addition to rituals, routines, and strange behavior, your spouse with Asperger’s can appear egotistical, selfish or uncaring, when in fact this is not the case. He or she is not necessarily intending to be hurtful. It is a consequence of not understanding how you feel and what you need. Remembering this will ease your worries and distress considerably.

• Pay attention to what your NT spouse wants and needs. Make a point of doing something each day to make your spouse happy. If she appreciates you doing the dishes, do them. If she likes hearing how much you care about her, surprise her with an occasional note of gratitude. Volunteer to help her. Spend a day doing what she wants rather than what you want.

It’s the small things that matter. Your behavior often says far more than your words. If you act caring, she will feel cared for.

• Whether you are the Asperger’s or NT partner, stop trying to control your spouse’s behavior. Telling your partner how he or she should behave is likely to create resentment and distrust. And why should anyone change if all they hear is what’s wrong with them?

Instead, ask yourself what you can do to improve your marriage. Then concentrate on carrying through with those suggestions. Remember, in a happy marriage, partners know they can only control their own behavior, not their partner’s.

• Married couples need time apart. If your NT spouse needs time to spend with friends, to exercise, devote to a hobby, or just time to be alone, respect that need to have independence. At the same time, while you may be unsociable challenge yourself to socialize with others together with your spouse. You may enjoy having your spouse’s full attention but nobody can be the center of attention all the time and also be a successful, caring partner.

These are not radical suggestions for improving a marriage but they are essential. Without understanding the challenges that Asperger’s creates in a partner, it is hard to adopt strategies to address and overcome those challenges. And without understanding the influence of Asperger’s on a marriage, the necessary pieces for success are hard to find. Together, however, they are crucial ingredients of a happy marriage.

Four Essential Ingredients For A Successful Asperger’s Relationship

What does it take to make a relationship work with someone who has Asperger’s? In my years of marriage as a Asperger’s and Neuro-typical (NT) couple of 17 years, I’ve created four strategies couples must make use of in order to create a lasting and satisfying relationship.

Communicate Simply and Exactly

One of the biggest problems for couples is the expectation that the partner with Asperger’s will understand the language, both verbal and non-verbal, of the NT partner.

People with Asperger’s have great difficulty understanding what others are thinking and feeling. This creates a continuous state of confusion, which in turn leads to anger and resentment. Whatever conflicts, misinterpretations, or disagreements that occur in your relationship are magnified by this cycle of misunderstanding, exasperation, and more misunderstanding.

To expect someone with Asperger’s to know what is in your mind, no matter how long you have been together, is a recipe for frustration. You need to communicate simply and directly, expressing exactly what you want your partner to understand. Rather than saying, for example, “I’m so tired of all this work we have to do around the house. I feel like it’s never going to get done” something your partner is likely to interpret as a statement, say what you really mean, “We have work to do. I would like you to vacuum the carpets, take out the trash, and finish folding the laundry. Thank you.”

Don’t Expect Communication To Save Your Relationship

Every relationship has difficult moments. Most of the time, we expect talking will resolve differences and disputes. That is not the case in relationships with an Asperger’s partner. For that person, talking about emotional issues makes matters worse.

Pushing your partner to talk increases stress considerably because talking about relationships forces your partner to confront emotions that he or she simply doesn’t understand. The more you push, the more overwhelming communication becomes, until your partner avoids conversations at every occasion.

Resolving difficulties through talking with your Asperger’s partner is an exercise in trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work.

Instead, focus on describing your own state of mind, your concerns, worries, needs, frustrations, etc. not for the purpose of getting your partner to change but simply to communicate what is on your mind. Taking off the table your expectation that sharing your feelings will prompt your partner to share his or her feelings can ease stress considerably and allow your partner to communicate when he or she is ready.

Play To Your Relationship Strengths

Planning, organizing, and decision making all add considerable stress to an adult with Asperger’s. Prioritizing decisions is equally difficult. Most people with Asperger’s lose track of the big picture, getting caught instead in details and losing the ability to finish a task on time.

When those tasks involve other people, the job becomes even more imposing.

It’s best to divide responsibilities up such that they take into account what each partner is good at. For the partner with Asperger’s, splitting tasks into smaller units that can be completed alone is an effective strategy. Tasks that require logic play to the strength of the Asperger’s partner as do tasks that require constructing and analyzing systems. For the NT partner, working with people, addressing the big picture, and decision-making is a better fit.

Be The Change You Want

If you stop responding negatively to your partner, whether you are neurotypical or the one with Asperger’s, your relationship is bound to improve. By being calm, patient, and positive your partner will be more able to listen to constructive criticism and feedback. When your partner feels appreciated and successful, he or she is more likely to respond similarly and to live up to your expectations.

If you want change in your relationship, you must start with changing yourself. Pay attention to what you want and need. In some cases, these may come from outside your relationship, through friendships, community involvement, independent projects, and other sources. Don’t give these up. You need them.

Try to be less judgmental with your partner. Instead, work to leave your resentments behind. Focus on not allowing your feelings about the past to interfere with your present commitment to your partnership. Learn from the past, but devote yourself to making a new and better future together. Reach out to others, whether it is an online support group or an involvement that has nothing to do with Asperger’s. And consider getting help from a professional who can assist you in working through the thicket of problems that inevitably crop up in a relationship.

Above all, be positive. Remember, you once felt love for your partner. It can be found again. All it really takes, in most cases, is the desire to find it.

Communicating with An Aspergers Partner.

After yesterday, I decided a personal series of posts about relationships and day to day life might be a wonderful topic to write on. This will be the first of a short series I hope will improve and support relationships between Neurotypicals and People with Aspergers.

Communicating effectively is the key to a successful relationship yet it is the very thing that people with Asperger’s have the most difficulty doing. If you are in a relationship with someone who has Asperger’s, the work of creating and maintaining effective communication may fall largely on you. Here are five recommendations for creating the kind of communication that will promote a successful, lasting relationship.

1.      Start Changing Now

Communication patterns develop early on in a relationship. The best time to create effective communication with someone is at the very beginning, before misunderstandings have a chance to develop and negative dynamics are set in place. People with Asperger’s have a hard time making changes in relating once communication patterns are entrenched. Once ineffective patterns are developed, change typically happens slowly and sometimes painfully.

If it’s early in your relationship, focus on what needs to change about the communication between the two of you, let your partner know what you expect and want, develop a plan in consultation with your partner and work to carry out that plan regularly and consistently. The same can be said if your relationship is in a mature phase. The time to change ineffective communication patterns is now. Waiting only makes it harder.

2.      Focus on Clarity

Clear and direct, spoken or written, communication works best in a relationship with an Asperger’s partner. Nonverbal communication, such as actions and behavior, gestures, body language, facial appearance and other indirect expressions are very difficult to understand and respond to for someone with Asperger’s.

As often as you can, translate your nonverbal communication into direct language so that your partner has a better chance of understanding you. If, for example, you tend to concentrate when listening let your partner know that your serious look doesn’t mean you are angry or critical, it is simply your way of focusing on what’s being said so that you catch what’s important in the conversation. Encourage your partner to do the same, that is, let you know what he or she really means through actions, gestures, body language, etc.

3.      Write Things Down

Make a list or chart for your partner of the nonverbal expressions that you tend to use and what they mean. Go over this list with your partner and make sure whatever is confusing is clarified so that both of you are on the same page. This will promote effective understanding and minimize the confusions and misconceptions that are likely to occur due to the limitations of Asperger’s.

4.      Make Criticism Constructive

Your Asperger’s partner is probably accustomed to being corrected, even criticized, for the way he or she communicates, to the point where this is what is expected. Even though you are not trying to be judgmental or critical you may appear to be so, because this is what your partner has experienced so often. Perception is everything when it comes to communication.

You need to express your feelings, needs, and expectations. Don’t hide them just because they have caused difficulty in the past. Rather, focus on making sure you let your partner knows that these are your feelings, needs, etc. and not indirect criticisms of your partner’s shortcomings.

Instead of pointing out what your partner is doing that you don’t like, or is not doing that you would prefer, frame the conversation in a positive way by focusing on how improvements can be made. Make a point of stating exactly what is needed for the two of you to communicate better and be sure to include what you can do to help with those improvements. Focusing just on how your partner should change without including what you can do to make things better will likely reinforce your partner’s assumption about being criticized and judged.

5.      Be Strategic

The fact that your partner has trouble understanding what you are thinking and feeling is good reason for you to take extra measures to communicate effectively yourself.

For example, try to avoid accusations. That only leads to greater misunderstanding and eventual resentment. Be patient but persistent. Give your partner time to think about and respond to your concerns. Stay calm. Take a deep breath in the midst of misunderstandings, focus on facts rather than assumptions, and try to compromise as much as you can.

Take one topic at a time. Too many subjects all jumbled together will be hard for your partner to understand and difficult for the two of you to achieve.

Work as a team. Neither of you is right all the time, just as neither of you is always wrong. You will need to reach your relationship goals by working together, focusing on the specifics of what needs to change, and viewing that change as a joint venture.

As you and your partner work towards better communication, consider the advantages of making small steps towards that goal. One step at a time, rather than rushing forward all at once, is a powerful technique. Remember the adage – Take small steps each day. You may not get there today but you’ll be closer than yesterday.

Personal Entry – Day To Day Life

Another weekend has come and gone. I do not have much in the way of inspired thinking or thoughts pouring out of my mind for the moment so I will justifiably be writing what so ever comes into my mind for now.

This last week was a test of an autistics coping mechanisms, namely my own. It was a short week which messed my mind up a little, and I never like my routine being changed so it certainly makes for an experience with that trial. That doesn’t mean I had a bad week by any circumstances. It was just challenging to cope with.

I hope next week is a little easier. I have a Doctors appointment to contend with Wednesday morning, however that is not entirely out of the ordinary. I am hoping that an interview at least comes up in the next few days, not having gainful employment opportunities for my career seems to be a plague Autistics tend to deal with.

There were a few minor routine outings today that I will go ahead and mention here. We went to the park today to take care of our Pokémon Go, and I finished three loads of dishes, made dinner and just tried to stay calm. One of my family is having very serious health issues.

I also did a lot of art, several of the pieces are included in the special exhibit I posted.

I had a spiritual thought and decided to share part of Proverbs that I like…this is from Chapter 23.

6 Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats:

7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

8 The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.

I would have to say the week is off to a decent start. I look forward to tomorrow.

Finally in closing a quote that reminds me of my beloved wife and companion of 17 years.

“A schoolteacher is the best tax-dollar bargain you will ever get. If you want to see tax dollars hard at work, come into a classroom and see what’s going on.”

—Rebecca Mieliwocki, 2012 Teacher of the Year

Fifteen Things Never To Say To An Autistic

This is strictly an opinion piece without any real research behind it, but I think common sense and basic dignity are enough to defend this list.

1. “So is that like being retarded?”

That’s insulting, and derogatory. I don’t need to explain this.

2. “You should be very proud of yourself. You seem so normal. I couldn’t tell you’re Autistic.”

What does normal mean? Couldn’t tell? That’s a very confusing comment.

3. “You must be very high-functioning.”

High Functioning? Low Functioning? It’s a spectrum. There are days I function perfectly fine, and others where my functioning is extremely impaired.

4. “You’re not like my child; you can write a blog post. My child will never be able to write a blog post.”

Again, functionality and spectrum people very greatly. I know of bloggers who are almost completely dependent and ones like myself who have met with members of Government.

5. “I know a kid whose autism is really severe. You don’t seem like him.”

Every Autistic is unique.

6. “Can you have sex?”

I’m married and have a beautiful daughter. So I hope so.

7. “Does that mean you’re really good at math/computers/numbers?”

I personally am very talented with computers and technology, but this assumption is still very inaccurate and restrictive. I’m a writer and an artist as well. I also love to cook, bake, and BBQ on occasion. My personal talents are a variety. Many Autistics are like this. Savants are extremely rare.

8. “But you’re married/have a job/go to college. You couldn’t do that if you were really Autistic.”

Yes, it’s true that every Autistic isn’t going to get married, have a job or go to college. But plenty of Autistics do get married, have jobs or go to college. I have had employment issues my entire life.

9. “Do you take any medications for that?”

You wouldn’t ask other people about their personal medical decisions. Why would you ask an Autistic?

10. “You have no right to claim to speak for severely Autistic people who can’t speak for themselves.”

As Chief Advocate of an Autism Advocacy and A Leader in An Autism Organization in Oklahoma City, I believe I was very much given that power and authority.

However, I have and every Autistic has every right to discuss the commonalities and general difficulties within our community.

Any Autistic person will understand another Autistic person’s experiences far better than any non-Autistic person by nature of also being Autistic.

That doesn’t mean I should be advocating for your child in their school (unless you ask me to do that, it’s not my place), or that I know your child’s particular quirks or personality, because unless I actually spend time with your child, I don’t and won’t. It does mean that I share the way your child experiences the world and can speak to that.

11. “Can you please not flap/rock/spin/jump in public? It’s embarrassing.”

Stimming is our way of calming ourselves, especially in an emotionally traumatic situation. If we are no danger to you or anyone else, leave us alone!

12. “You mean you are a person with autism. You are a person first, not a disability or a disorder label.”

This is debatable ground. If someone elects to refer to themselves as Autistic, respect that. While we might appreciate this gesture, it is our choice what we are comfortable with.

13. “What’s it like to be Autistic?”

It’s not common courtesy to ask someone you don’t know well what their disability is like for them.

However, this is debatable ground. If you really want to know, I personally like being told you have a legitimate curiosity or interest, then I am very open to direct questions. Not open ended ones like that.

Every Autistic will respond differently in this situation.

14. “Have you ever heard of Temple Grandin? Her books are really amazing!”

Yes, Dr. Grandin and I have known each other for 20 years. Many of my writings are probably similar as I have worked with her on several projects in the past.

There are however, many prominent Autistics I could name, but that’s not my point. I find it annoying that I might be compared to anyone when I am happy trying to make my own prominence to better serve my community.

15. (Asking a question about the Autistic person to a parent, support person, aide, sibling, or friend who is standing or sitting beside the Autistic person)

This has happened to me, and it angers me to no end. I speak for me, not my aides, my parents, my friends. Me! Ask me those questions, not my support team.

Shutdowns and Meltdowns (Supplemental)

Yesterday as I finished my entry, I realized I was talking about shutdowns and meltdowns, not just shutdowns.

It’s important to note that my shutdown and meltdown episodes resemble depression, but the process is different than depression.

During meltdown, a part of me is motivated to fix and move forward. A part discouraged. When I am depressed, I know it.

When I am in shutdown or meltdown, I have a hard time identifying it. I also usually don’t sink deeper and deeper into sadness with meltdown, rather I seem to be swimming upstream. I don’t feel like the world is crashing in.

I don’t lose hope. I am exhausted from living, but I want to live. I want to get better. I want to regain energy.

Thankfully I am recovering from the episode and feel much better.

I am sorry for the brevity but I need to regroup from the episode I had.

Dealing With Autism Shutdowns

I had a Shutdown recently, so this encouraged me to write about this complicated and agonizing situation that we run into.

Autistics have shutdowns. It’s part of life. There are multiple root causes for a shutdown, including the result of sensory overload, physical and mental exhaustion, unexpected news, anxiety about an upcoming event, and upheaval in our schedule. Sometimes it comes in combination; other times it comes down to simply being “on” for so long, that we have no choice but to turn “off.” Co-occurring stressors, such as physical pain, heightened anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, and the like, serve to further drain our energy reserves.

The amount of energy it takes a typical, non-autistic person to get through the day is, in most cases, significantly less, in comparison to an autistic’s. In example, I make one hundred conscious decisions, at minimum, within the first hour of waking up. What most individuals decide subconsciously, on a type of automatic mode, I do not. The way I process life can be compared to the sensation one feels when they concentrate on their eyes blinking. When focusing on the eyes closing, we are distracted by an automatic action that would normally not be a distraction. Blinking doesn’t involve thoughts. The way I process is similar to the sensation of paying attention to the blink of one’s eyes: I am pulled into the blinking of my own thoughts.

My brain, like all autistics’ brains, seeks connections through patterns. It is on super drive all day long. It solves, reasons, rearranges, deciphers, and concludes. Every move I make is an effort, an action I am noticing, and behind that action multiple scaffolding thoughts. Where in an average person might think about six things in relation to a feasible outcome, I am thinking of sixty. What one throws out as a die with six sides, I throw out as ten dice with six sides. What commonly goes unnoticed by others, is a heavy blink to me with multiple facets, some hidden, some upright, some tossed off the table.

The questions of how many steps to take, which room to enter first, which task to accomplish next, which word choice to use, how long to linger on one topic, are not just familiarities, they are essential elements of my existence. And behind those questions, evidence gathered in the past, visual flashes of what has been and what could be. In many moments, I am a bystander set within a machine, carried where it leads, with no steering wheel or access to controls—an entity within a larger calculating entity. And this entity is deciphering the feasible best route to everything, including my thinking process.

As my mind works, nothing is disqualified from being factored into an outcome. Even my toothpaste brand, how much paste I squeeze out, and the flow of the water from the faucet, are scoped out and theorized, and then neatly tucked into a web of accumulated data. My thoughts gathered, molded, and placed into a previously opened drawer, a unit only to be reopened and reassembled during a later point of time. I am essentially a vast storage house with feelings.

Seeing as I am constantly moving within strings of webbed-data, in order to gain relief, I am instinctually drawn to a semblance of predictable patterns—something to alleviate the constant sensation of gathering, sorting, and storing. The familiar doesn’t need to be analyzed. And in that there is ultimate refuge. Familiarity can come in multiple shapes and sizes—in a predictable routine, a familiar voice or face, a soothing melody, a favorite movie or book, a pattern of speech.

When I am unable to find predictable retreat in the familiarity, or when something pulls me into overload, especially when I am already at full capacity of input, I cannot help but to go into shutdown. It is automatic. My brain understands no other way to refuel and get back to a place of semi-peace. Unfortunately, the space of shutdown is not always comfortable; sometimes, it is a necessity to get me from one place to the next, like a tattered bridge, booby-trapped in a war zone, strung across and over a deep chasm of unknown.

In example, during my shutdown:

• I am unaware that I am in shutdown at the starting stage. Usually a part of me knows, but the most of me feels confused and off-balance. At this point I can do nothing but be. I have not an ounce of energy or thought process left to help myself or anyone else. I am literally a computer unplugged. (non-responsive, unaware of surroundings, lost somewhere)

• I might be unable to form complete thoughts or talk aloud.

• I spend the majority of time alone, in isolation and away from people. However, I could be sitting in the same room as someone else, but be lost in my mind.

• As a result of little to no energy whatsoever, I skip showers, don’t brush my hair, stay in my pajamas, don’t eat. (This is different than depression. I am too tired to do anything, even if a part of me wants to.)

• I finally feel like I can breathe and not think.

• I curl up into a ball and sleep.

Shutdown leading into implosion or minor-meltdown:

• Sometimes after a shutdown (or before a shutdown), I experience an implosion of thoughts. My brain, doing what it does best, stemming out in web-like connections trying to solve a problem; only it’s a problem that I cannot readily identify.

• During implosion, I turn my anger inward and use all-or-nothing self-talk. I use words like never, what was I thinking, I can’t stand this, I won’t ever do this, I am done with that.

• My mind, in its search for relief, makes big plans. I convince myself in the finality of my situation. That I am at last leaving something behind, turning over a new leaf, making a life altering decision. This usually means wanting to demolish an aspect of self and the way I do things. I long to become tougher, become stronger, even if that goes against my core values. I believe if I am tainted, angry, rude, better than, then I will be able to make a stand for myself.

• In implosion, I turn my back on a large part of self, thinking who I am, who I was, ultimately continually betrays me. My self-expectations are extreme. I pressure myself into rearranging aspects of self that aren’t ideal. I analyze my frailties and shortcomings, both real and imagined.

• I visualize extreme decision making: I am never going on Facebook again; I am never reading about autism again; I am never going to ask him for help again; I incorporate the word again into self-talk, as a means of self-punishing myself for past decisions and actions. I criticize my past behaviors: I cannot believe I ever thought that way or acted that way; I shouldn’t be this way: What is wrong with me?

• I over-exaggerate the dire state of current relationships and self-blame. Everything is ultimately somehow my fault. After all, I should have known better. What is wrong with me to think they ever cared, to have ever trusted, to have ever believed? I wallow in self-pity and hate myself for wallowing in self-pity and being trapped in the isolation chamber again.

Fortunately, part of my brain’s grand analysis scheme has led me to directly dissecting my previous shutdowns and meltdowns. Given the ability to analyze elements of my experiences, I have been granted opportunity to establish certain blinking-light reminders to guide me —reminders that enable me to, at opportune moments, logically steer myself into a direction of less self-injury and poor decision-making.

It’s a delicate balance, in helping self during stages of shutdown (or meltdown), as I need to allow myself not to think too heavily (in order to not fully drain all my energy reserves), but at the same time, I must allow myself opportunity to engage in some constructive self-talk. Also, there is only a finite point of time in which I will actually recognize I am in shutdown and be willing to listen to reason. Some of what I tell myself, includes:

• This has happened before; this is nothing new;

• This is part of the way your brain works;

• You will come out of this soon; you will be okay;

• Try not to follow through on any major decisions while in this state;

• You cannot reason yourself out of this, so just go with the flow;

• If you shame yourself, it’s okay; it’s only temporary.

As an aside, where the mental health professional veers off course, is in their thinking that traditional means of cognitive behavioral therapy will work in such shutdown mode or meltdown mode. They usually don’t understand or comprehend how the mind works of an autistic, unless autistic or well versed in the matter. A counselor implementing a set of rules in hopes of supporting a client, may indeed serve to further drown an already over burdened mind. It is a delicate dance, in which first the one in need must recognize they are trapped in the shutdown, and then maneuver through it without over burdening the mind and causing the act of further sinking into mental exhaustion. This is difficult to explain to anyone, unless they thoroughly analyze what happens in the thinking patterns of the autistic brain.

Like everything else in an autistic world, nothing is simple, nor can be simplified.

Music Therapy Research

What Is Music Therapy?

Music is an ancient form of communication, common to every human culture. It requires no verbal abilities, and it can be adapted to meet the needs and tastes of absolutely everyone.

Music therapy is a well-established technique for using musical interaction to help individuals with a wide range of cognitive and emotional challenges to improve their ability to function. By interacting with adults and children on the autism spectrum, musical therapists can build skills, lower anxiety, and even develop new communication skills.

It’s important to note that music therapy is NOT the same as musical instruction. If your aim is to have your child build vocal or instrumental skills, you’ll need to find an instructor instead of or in addition to a music therapist.

Why Would a Person with Autism Need to See a Music Therapist?

Music Therapy can help people with autism to improve skills in areas such as communication, social skills, sensory issues, behavior, cognition, perceptual/motor skills, and self-reliance or self-determination. The therapist finds music experiences that strike a chord with a particular person, making personal connections and building trust.

People on the autism spectrum are often especially interested in and responsive to music. Because music is motivating and engaging, it may be used as a natural “reinforcer” for desired responses. Music therapy can also help those with sensory aversions to certain sounds to cope with sound sensitivities or individual differences in auditory processing.

What Does a Music Therapist Do for People with Autism?

After assessing the strengths and needs of each person, music therapists develop a treatment plan with goals and objectives and then provide appropriate treatment. Music therapists work with both individuals and in small groups, using a variety of music and techniques.

According to the National Autistic Society, music therapists may:

…rely on spontaneous musical improvisation. The therapist uses percussion or tuned instruments, or her own voice, to respond creatively to the sounds produced by the client, and encourage the client to create his or her own musical language. The aim is to create a context of sound in which the client feels comfortable and confident to express himself, to experience a wider range of emotions, and to discover what it is like to be in a two-way communicating relationship.

Use simple songs, pieces or musical styles to suit the mood and clinical and developmental needs of the client at any given moment. In fact, music as therapy need not fall into conventional patterns or even use words; the music therapist can respond to cries, screams and body movements by the client, all of which have rhythm and pitch and are susceptible to organization in musical terms.

A good music therapist should be able to develop strategies that can be implemented at home or at school.

How Can I Find a Board Certified Music Therapist?

Music therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved college and university program; complete a minimum of 1,200 hours of clinical training; and pass a national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) to obtain the credential required for professional practice, Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC).

Some music therapists work in school settings as a related service on a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), either hired or contracted by a school district. Others have private practices or work for agencies that specialize in treatment for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Some states fund music therapy services through Medicaid Waivers or other state programs. Private health insurance reimbursement usually requires pre-approval on a case-by-case basis