Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I'm going to camp tomorrow. This camp is for children and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum. While I have worked with kids on the spectrum for many years, and while I have camped in all types of situations, I have never combined the two experiences. I am thrilled and VERY excited about going to camp this summer.

I leave tomorrow morning for the 4-day, 3-night camp. I am lugging craft supplies, visual file folders, musical instruments, my digital camera, and my equipment for the week. I have been assigned to "assist" the music therapists who will be running sessions. This will be an experience. I have difficulty "assisting" and will have to remain in the role of "assistant" while taking pictures. I am in charge of sensory stimulation, assisting with field games, and leading arts and crafts.

Camp has always been the best environment for me. I've been to day camp, overnight camp, survival camp, science camp, church camp, and snow camp. I have always wanted to go to space camp, but I would not survive the vestibular testing, so have accepted by limitations and have not tried to go to space camp.

I'm taking my guitar. There is nothing better than playing as the sun rises in the early morning. As I am a VERY early riser, I anticipate time outside watching the sun rise, reading my book, composing music, and attempting to keep myself quiet. I'll find my place and visit it each morning.

I hope that this is a good camp.

Friday, July 24, 2009


'Tis the season for school therapists who get to work an extended school year to rest and rejuvenate. So, here is my time to relax. Now, I have a VERY strong work ethic, so I relax for a bit of time and then get back to work. I slept all of today, but now am ready to start problem solving and getting things ready for my next challenges.

I am now faced with a change in treatement philosophy for one group of students at the school where I am the therapist. While the new philosophy is not all that new for the Autism community, it is VERY new for the teachers that I work with on a daily basis. They are excited and are trying to incoporate my treatment into their new format. This is fine, but there are some things that will not work within the format easily that I have to adapt to make music therapy effective for their students.

I like this process of working through a potential problem until it is not a problem any longer. By the end of my Fall break, I will probably have a solution to this situation that will work. If not, I will have a couple of options that should work. We will see.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We Evolve or We Die

There has recently been lots of controversy in some music therapy circles about how things are not being done the way that the circles would like to see. This is generally in the form of complaints about the national association and includes discussions about advocacy, protection of perceived professional "rights," and the "Us vs. Them" mentality that still figures in the now united, formally split association. One of the things that struck me as interesting was the perception that the association should drop everything to address my needs on my schedule. If I have a complaint, it needs to be addressed immediately!

This has started me thinking, which is never a good sign. I wonder if it is possible for any professional organization to be all things to all people. I know that it is impossible for any person to be all things to all people. Why do we expect our association to be able to cater to our every whim? Having said this, I find that the association itself is not always what I wish it would be.

MY major criticisms are these.

  • There are too few people trying to do to much work at the association office.

  • When approached by committees for changes, promises are made, but not kept.

  • When committee members ask to take on additional responsibilities, members of the association do not allow that information to pass on to the ones willing to do the job.

  • Our public face - website - is confusing and difficult to navigate in.

  • The fees are outrageous for membership as well as for conferences.

  • Conferences have a skew towards the researchers rather than the clinicians.

There. That's my tirade. Now...

Here's what I think we can do about it.

  1. Restructure the website so it is easily navigated - get someone who is willing to format the website in trade for registration or membership fees. I'd do it!
  2. Move conferences from big locations to less gigantic places. What's wrong with Wichita, Kansas? Or Ontario, California? Or other places where there are sufficient places for therapists to stay, a convenient airport, and limited attraction for other conferences - people in those places would be willing to give us discounts so we would show up. I think it would work.
  3. Ensure that clinical proposals have equal representation at conferences.
  4. Restructure the committee formats - give committees more responsibilities. Give committees tasks that will alleviate some of the work burden on the national office staff members. These could be as simple as sending paperwork to the committee chairs directly. It could also involve maintenance of some website resources by others outside of the office.

Tirade over.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer School Sonnet

The heat is strong, the students are playing,

Sounds in the hallways echo through the air,

Teachers are working, their students complaining,

About the work which won't go anywhere.

Music room down at the end of the hall

Lends melody to the school atmosphere

Drumming and singing and that is not all

Piano playing is what you hear here.

All people counting the days and the week

Until the end of the extended year

Looking for solitude, quiet they seek,

The end of the session is drawing near.

Fourteen more days until two blessed weeks.

Refreshment, renewal, and rest we seek.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Musical Preferences

I love learning about others' musical preferences. It fascinates me what folks like and why. The extramusical associations are wonderful and enrich my own experience of musical selections. I often ask why someone likes a song, and there is always a story.

Personally, I am a lyric-centric person. The musical structure grabs my attention, but the lyrics are what pull me in. For me, the poetry of the song is just as important as the music. I do love music without lyrics as well, but songs are my favorite.

I thrill to the Beach Boys because they sing about familiar places - all of the beaches that I spent time on during my youth. I love Chicago's eighties music because the words illustrated many situations in my life. I thrill to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals - all of them - for those moments of emotion that suck me in and keep me there. I can only listen to or watch The Phantom of the Opera every so often since I end up in thrall around The Point of No Return everytime. It is embarrassing.

I spent the summer of '06 obsessed with the musical, Wicked. It still has the power to overtake my system whenever I listen to it, but I lived with the music during that summer. I would wake up singing songs from the musical and not get them out of my mind. I probably also dreamed about the music. I have learned that that much obsession is not good for my sanity, so I avoid listening to the entire musical. I find that I can listen to one song, but not two!

The best thing that has ever happened to me and my preference development is technology. The ability to burn one preferred song onto a CD for my own listening pleasure has assisted me in maintaining my eclectic (and it really is) taste in music. My friends often criticize my CD formats - I'll go from a song from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang to an angry girl rocker singing about being dumped. I like them. I really enjoy that variety and am interested in the abrupt changes. The music is my favorite, and sharing the music with friends is something that I choose to do rather than have to do.

Gotta go listen to some good music, now.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


The big event in my fall break is camp. I have volunteered for a camp for kids with diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum. When I heard about the camp, they were asking for a music therapist to lead the big campfire. I volunteered and was told that, in addition to the campfire, I would be in charge of music therapy, arts and crafts, and sensory experiences. I was up for the challenge and ready to go.

Last night was orientation. Imagine my suprise when I found that I was going to "assist" with music therapy rather than lead it. As that was not AT ALL my expectations, I had to do some quick mental rearranging. In one fell swoop, I went from being the therapist to being the aide. The kicker,...no one bothered to mention that I was no longer in charge of that portion of things until I saw it on the schedule. Then, I felt like such a dink for asking if I needed to plan to lead therapy. The camp director looked at me with surprise on her face and offered a session on Saturday after the other TWO music therapists had gone home!

Okay. I'll admit that my feelings are hurt, but I really feel that this could have been handled much better. An email explaining that there were two others who were volunteering, so I didn't have to plan anything would have sufficed for me. I am probably WAY overreacting, but the fact is that I am disappointed in this situation. I love the act of doing music therapy, and I love working with folks on the Autism Spectrum. There are many more things that I would love to do than sit and watch. I will just have to act like I do when I'm supervising others. That is SO much more difficult and less satisfying for me than facilitating the experiences.

The bright side of all of this is that I should be learning some new opening TMEs as well as some closing TMEs.

Another bright side - no need to lug all of my instruments to camp.

Monday, July 06, 2009

When a therapist has to serve others first...

This week, we received word that one of our clients had passed away. For some music therapists, this is a more common occurrence, but for us, it is a rare occasion. This young man had severe multiple disabilities and had stopped breathing several times in his short life. He had always responded to resucitation in the past, but this time the episode was undetected. We heard on Monday morning at the beginning of the school day.

I was bringing another student into the classroom from the bus. The support service staff get kids off the buses in the morning and take them to class. I walked into the class with the student to find all three of the staff hysterically sobbing. They had just found out about his death. The students, all of whom have multiple disabilities, were just sitting where they were, waiting for staff members to come and interact with them.

I helped out, getting kids ready for breakfast, fielding questions from others about why staff members were crying and wailing, and giving them some time to compose themselves. I then left the room to tell the interns about our client.

My role during the week was that of listener. I heard stories about our kid, I listened to the teacher as she went through some of the mourning process, and I listened to the students as they conveyed their grief in different ways.

On Friday, the day after the funeral, I woke early to find myself staring outside at the strange sky. It caught my attention enough that I opened my front blinds - a rare event. I looked outside and saw a huge rainbow. The pictures here do not do it justice. I found myself crying and grieving for the little boy who would not be returning to school. I had time to be the mourner rather than the therapist. I cried for his family, left behind, for the pain that he went through, and for the staff members who loved him. I watched the rainbow until it faded from sight.

I find that my faith helps me greatly when faced with grief. I firmly believe that the rainbow lit my boy's path to heaven where he is now playing and laughing. I am looking forward to meeting him again someday.

Now, I am able to act like the therapist that I am for others who have not found their rainbows.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Art of Listening

This week I have had to do lots of listening. I have been listening to co-workers as the grieve the loss of a student, listening to interns as they work on their relationship with each other, listening to my family as they are off on an adventure that they want to share with me, 1500 miles away. The act of listening is not easy. It is an art.

I was taught to listen (as well as many other things) by Sandy Rudder, now a Ph.D. Apparently, I was part of her dissertation project - an assertiveness training program for 6th grade girls. My parents thought that I was a good subject - I had some difficulties making friends and sticking up for myself - the products of many moves in few years - so I was pulled out of class to attend assertiveness training.

I remember lots of things that occurred during that time. I have used it many times over my years. The things that I use everyday, however, are the tips on listening. Here are as many as I can remember:

  1. Active listening means paying attention to what is being said. Not formulating your answer, not thinking of smart comebacks.
  2. Interruptions are not positive.
  3. Make eye contact.
  4. Watch the entire person as they are speaking to you. You get so much information through nonverbal communication.
  5. Ask for clarification, even when you think you know what they are speaking about - it is better to check than be wrong.
  6. Listening is different from hearing.
  7. You do not have to respond to what others say. Sometimes your silence is all that is needed.

Thank you, Sandy Rudder, for increasing my therapeutic skills at such an early age. You helped me be a better person and therapist without even knowing that was the goal.