Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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Meaningful Music

Becky Wellman, PhD, MT-BC, DT is a nationally board certified music therapist and Illinois state certified developmental therapist. She has a private practice in the Chicago suburbs providing services for young children with special needs and older adults with memory loss. Dr. Wellman is also an adjunct professor of Human Services at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.

Autism Awareness/Acceptance

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Over the years I’ve worked with some fabulous children and families with autism. For this Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month I feel compelled to share a little of what I’ve learned from them.

There is comfort in repetition and routine: Many of our children with autism engage in repetitive behaviors. While some see this as distressing, it really can bring comfort to our kids. On a whim one day I matched the tempo of my song to my client’s movement. He stopped for a minute smiled and went back to his movement. We continued our little “duet” for quite some time with me following his lead as to when I played, when I stopped, and how fast I would go. It was a great moment of connectedness and communication!

Sometimes it’s good to see things from another perspective: When I first started working in early intervention I had a client who I saw several times a week. One day he decided that our entire session would be conducted in front of the mirror. In downward dog. For an hour. And I needed to be there, in down dog, too. It was a crazy session, but my willingness to see things, literally, from his perspective made a huge difference in that session and future sessions.

Sometimes it’s OK to NOT be in control: I can feel you cringing from here. Trust me. I hear you. I used to be a “I need to be in control of what we’re doing and when we’re doing it” kind of therapist. I wrote plans and fully prepared to follow them. And I’d have to fight with many of my kids with autism to meet those very specific plans. What I’ve learned over the years is that letting the child show me what they need and me adapting what I’d like to work on to meet that works so much better. Some days I have all kinds of great ideas as to what we will do in music and the child needs a full sensory day. Awesome! Let’s work on that today. Some days I’m certain they’ll need a lot of sensory and they’re ready to move and sing. By being prepared for just about anything and working within their needs to reach our goals we can all get what we want!

It pays to be open: While I know a lot about kids and kids who are on the autism spectrum, their families really know more. I strive to stay open to their suggestions and recommendations as to how we can work together to make music more enjoyable for all involved. Many of the things I know, I know only because families were willing to share and I was open enough to listen and try it out!

As this is autism awareness/acceptance month, I invite you to take an opportunity learn a little more about autism. Many support groups offer classes, trainings, or even meet-and-greets where you can chat with families and learn more about the challenges and successes our children experience. Knowledge can be powerful in making our music more meaningful for our families with kids on the autism spectrum!

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ECMMA is grateful for the ongoing sponsorship of our Supporting Businesses and Organizations. Please be sure to thank them for their efforts in supporting Early Childhood Music and Movement. Learn more about ECMMA Supporting Businesses.