Music Therapy

‘Building a Relationship’ – Music Therapy with a 6 year old with Autism

December 20, 2023

By Robert Simonis, Music Therapist, EMT.

It has been a full year since I qualified as a Music Therapist from Roehampton and joined the Ealing Music Therapy (EMT) service team. This year, I have thoroughly enjoyed working for this service and look forward to many more happy years at Ealing Music Therapy.

My first clinical role was to work as a Music Therapist at Springhallow School. I have learnt a lot in my first year at Springhallow and have been fully supported by the staff.

I was given the opportunity to present my work from Springhallow at our Annual General Meeting. It was a privilege to present my work in front of my peers, colleagues and other people that joined us in the meeting. This was the first time that I had presented my work since I finished university. As a result, I felt apprehensive about the presentation but felt fully supported by my colleagues.

In this blog, I have written a case study based on that presentation that was titled ‘Building a Relationship’.

Building a relationship

Clare was a 6 year old with a diagnosis of Autism. She attends a school for pupils aged 4-16 years with a diagnosis of Autism and the pupils at the school have learning disabilities ranging from moderate to severe.

Clare is sensory seeking and often seeks out her own motivators. This results in her having fleeting and self-directed behaviour. She is able to engage in her own activities for long periods of time, but needs support to attend adult led activities.

Reasons for referral

Clare had attended Music Therapy in previous academic years. During this time, the staff noticed that she was making positive steps of progress with her communication. For example, she enjoyed singing and saying new words. Her parents also noticed these positive changes at home too.

Clare rarely demonstrates joint attention and it was felt that music therapy could assist Clare in continuing to develop her communication skills and joint interactions.

Finding our way

Clare was always keen to come to Music Therapy. However, she generally became very anxious during transitions and change. She therefore needed some time outside in the play area before coming to the music therapy room. In our initial sessions, Clare began cautiously. She did not want to play the same instruments with me and whenever I presented an instrument to her, she looked, then ran to the other side of the room. When I attempted to play the piano with her, she moved my hand away. She also covered her ears whenever I attempted to sing any songs.

Although it was very difficult to engage with Clare, we did manage to briefly interact during the early sessions. Clare enjoyed saying words that I would repeat. Whenever I repeated the words that she would say, she would change the word and wait for my response.

This interaction provided Clare with a response that was not just imitating her words, but a form of back-and-forth communication.

This interaction was the beginnings of a developing therapeutic relationship and showed us the potential music therapy would have for Clare.

Developing our relationship

As the sessions continued, I would follow Clare around the space in an attempt to get some musical interaction, however, she would run from one end of the room to the other. I decided to let Clare be free to express herself in the therapy space and to stop following her in a forced attempt to engage. Instead, I sat at the piano with a percussion instrument and attuned with her through the musical imitations of her movements, the words she was saying and melodies she’d hum to herself. As a result, the dynamic of the sessions began to shift and Clare began to initiate different musical responses between us.

By providing a safe and therapeutic environment for Clare to freely explore, allowed a developing relationship to emerge. By facilitating Clare’s wants and needs, Clare was able to manage her anxieties and begin to communicate and musically interact with me.

Musical interaction

Since Clare enjoyed exploring the therapy space, I set up the instruments at either end of the room and in the middle. I also put some cards and puppets on a chair with the songs she enjoyed singing. During this point in the Music Therapy sessions, Clare would go straight to the chairs that contained all the various cards and song choices. I would be sat in front of the keyboard and Clare would walk over to me saying the first name of the song. Once I began to sing, Clare would run across the room with the card in her hand and fall on the floor. As I was singing, I’d interrupt the song by musically mirroring Clare’s movement which elicited a response from Clare in the form of laughter. This interaction lasted for the whole session with Clare often coming next to me, making eye contact, smiling and attempting to communicate what she wanted.

This interaction facilitated prolonged joint attention between us on the same task. During these interactions, it seemed that I had become a secure base for Clare which facilitated her creative play in the therapy space before she’d return to me.

Summary of the work

Clare is nine months into her Music Therapy sessions. In this time, she has demonstrated a developing therapeutic relationship with me. Within this relationship, Clare has been free to explore the therapy space and demonstrated independence and creative play. This therapeutic environment has facilitated and encouraged her to communicate with me verbally and musically. Clare has shown joint attention and interactions in the various musical tasks and has been able to manage her anxieties. This has been achieved through song singing, free improvised musical dialogues and creative play.

My journey to becoming a Music Therapist

January 9, 2023

By Robert Simonis, Music Therapist, EMT.

I’m happy to have joined the Ealing Music Therapy (EMT) service team. Last summer, I graduated from the University of Roehampton where I spent 3 wonderful years learning and developing to be a Music Therapist. I am really excited to begin my new career as a Music Therapist with EMT. In this blog, I will briefly describe my musical background and what inspired me to become a music therapist.

My musical background and love of music

I was born in West London and have lived in the borough of Ealing my whole life. Ealing has a rich musical history and I was encouraged by my parents to begin piano lessons when I was eight years old. I received private tuitions from various teachers in Ealing, achieving all the practical ABRSM piano grades by the time I was eighteen. I went on to study privately with the late Helena Brown who sent me to complete an EPTA Pedagogy Course for teaching piano at the Royal College of Music. Later, I completed my piano ABRSM teaching diploma and grade 8 theory. Since then, I have regularly been teaching piano privately to students of all ages from beginners to advanced level.  

My musical interest is rooted in the blues and rock genres. As a teenager, I would often listen to various records and attempt to transcribe and re-record them on my workstation keyboard. This led me to apply to Rose Bruford University where I studied a BA in Music Technology. At Rose Bruford, I learnt about microphone placement and mixing techniques for pop and rock music genres as well as audio theory. I also received classes in the Language of Music, Technique of Music, Orchestration and Film Music. 

What inspired me to become a Music Therapist

My interest in Music Therapy began when reading a book by Dr Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia. In this book, Dr Sack’s promoted the use of music therapy as a positive tool to help people that were struggling to adapt to their different neurological conditions. These case studies inspired me to research into how Music Therapy is clinically practiced and to understand the processes that helps people in the therapy. Helping people was something that I’d always wanted to do as a career. In Music Therapy, I had the opportunity of combining my love for music with my desire to help people through the power of music.

My first job as a Music Therapist

This month, I began my first job as a Music Therapist working at a school for children with a diagnosis of Autism and associated learning difficulties. I am really looking forward to beginning this new journey in my life at such a wonderful school with excellent teachers.

Our new Music Therapy service at Selborne School

By Gemma Lenton-Smith, Music Therapist, EMT.

Ealing Music Therapy has had the privilege to set up a service at Selborne School this academic year.  Music Therapy is provided one day a week at the school and delivers both individual and group sessions depending on the needs of the children. The Service both supports the children’s Additional Resource Provision (ARP) and in the mainstream. The school has been extremely welcoming, supportive and has embraced what music therapy can provide for the children within the school.   

This term I have had the pleasure of working with one Key Stage 1 pupil. They have engaged well in sessions using different instruments and stories to express themselves. Self expression has allowed them to build their confidence and take more risks and explore different emotions.

Selborne School has very much welcomed me as part of the team.  It was lovely to be involved in the Christmas assembly with staff and children. I am also looking forward to providing staff training in January to explain in more detail about music therapy and what it can offer primary aged children.

Music Therapy making a difference at Springhallow School during the pandemic

November 10, 2021

By Rachael Hannah, Music Therapist, EMT.

Music Therapy at Springhallow School

In October 2021 I will be leaving Springhallow, 11 years after I started here. I will be very sad to say goodbye to this wonderful school and will be working over the next few weeks to make the transition as smooth as possible for the next therapist to take over.

Springhallow School is an Ealing LEA maintained day community special school for pupils aged 4-16 years with autistic spectrum/communication disorders. Children at the school have learning difficulties ranging from moderate to severe. The school also has a recently opened post-16 facility for 16–19-year-olds on a separate site.

Music therapy provision in Springhallow is one day per week, which is generally five sessions of individual &/or group work.

Adapting during the Covid-19 pandemic

Following the long period of lockdown and school closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020, Springhallow school reopened to all pupils in September. The school was well organised with increased safety measures in place, and music therapy sessions also followed these measures: social distancing, mask wearing, ventilation, extra cleaning and arranging the staff and pupils in ‘bubbles’. Attendance was good throughout the term and luckily bubble closures were minimal.

In the January lockdown, I did sessions remotely: working from the school music room via ‘Zoom’ – either to pupils in another classroom in the school or to pupils in their homes. This was very successful in some instances and more difficult for other pupils. Once school reopened to all in March we resumed sessions as per the Autumn term.

I saw pupils in 1:1 sessions as well as working with class groups. The many changes brought about by the pandemic, the lockdowns and school closures have been challenging for these pupils in different ways, and it has been a busy year adapting the work to support each pupil individually.

Music therapy at Springhallow continues to be valued and well supported, and I would like to thank the school for their ongoing support.

Working as an EMT Music Therapist in the first year of the pandemic

February 25, 2021

By Omer Plotniarz, Music Therapist, EMT.

2020 – 2021 was a very special year for me, both in my professional and private life.

Adapting to changing needs

Working alongside Covid, had made us, the therapists, more creative and adaptable to all the changes and regulations as well as the change in our service users’ needs. The lack of consistency and predictability brought up some new challenges that we haven’t experienced before as therapists – emotional support and poor mental wellbeing and support. I have experienced more cases of high anxiety levels, challenging behaviour and depression. This has required more focus on emotional needs.

With the up coming changes within Ealing Music Therapy (EMT) this year, I am planning to attend ‘supervising’ training and to take a bigger role within the charity.

A special thank you to Ealing Music Therapy!

More than everything I wanted to thank EMT for the support and assistance with everything involving the birth of our son Albi. Both Einav and I can’t express our appreciation – from being in hospital, talking to the schools, being attentive to our needs and giving us time and flexibility when needed – Thank you!

Setting up a Music Therapy service in a mainstream school

May 10, 2020

By Omer Plotniarz, Music Therapist, EMT.

Music Therapy at Coston School

Coston School is a mainstream Primary School which has an Additional Resource Provision (ARP) unit for children with moderate learning difficulties, severe developmental delay, emotional difficulties and Autistic spectrum disorder.

Previously there was no music therapy at Coston Primary School and I am grateful for the opportunity of setting up the service. The initial aim of the service was to provide care for the ARP unit’s students and to gradually expand into the mainstream area supporting students with their emotional and mental wellbeing.

Setting up a Music Therapy service

To introduce the service to the school I presented to the ARP’s staff a workshop about music therapy, explaining about the work, aims, potential referrals and showed some videos of different cases. As a result, the first referrals for music therapy were made by the ARP lead and me. Later, staff members started to refer more students to music therapy.

The music therapy provision offered by Ealing Music Therapy included individual, group and spontaneous sessions that included staff members that supported the setting when needed.

Challenges and resilience during the pandemic

This was a very tricky year introducing music therapy in a new setting, with two lockdowns and school closures. As a result, the school opening hours as well as the number of students varied which needed adjustments both from staff and me. I would like to mention the ARP staff and to thank them for all their work and support during this year. They showed great motivation and dedication to the students and their learning. I really enjoyed working with them and felt included from the very first moment.

Towards the end of Spring term, my line manager – the school’s ARP Lead – had to reduce her hours and attendance in school due to personal reasons. This has been challenging especially when I needed support, however the other staff members did their outmost to support me during these times.

A successful first year

Within the 2020-2021 academic year, 21 children from the ARP unit received regular music therapy sessions whether in an individual close/open-group settings.  The music therapy provision spread between the different age groups in the school and involved close work with the staff and other professionals who work in the school.

This was a very successful and productive year in terms of music therapy especially in regard to the group work I have done, running 3 different class groups.

Supporting mental and emotional wellbeing at Belvue School

March 23, 2020

By Omer Plotniarz, Music Therapist, EMT.

Music Therapy at Belvue High School

Belvue is a Secondary School for students with a range of Learning Disabilities, Emotional Behavioural Difficulties and Autism. For many years, music therapy has been an integral part of the school’s landscape and is part of the school’s multi-disciplinary team.

The music therapy provision offered by Ealing Music Therapy includes individual, group and spontaneous sessions that include staff members that support the setting when needed.

The children in the school been referred to music therapy with various aims such as support their emotional well-being, develop their social and communication skills, as well as increase their self-esteem and sense of achievement.

Within the 2020-2021 academic year, 6 children from the school received regular music therapy sessions within an individual setting. The music therapy provision is spread between the different age groups in the school and involves close work with the staff and other professionals who work in the school.

As a school we had experienced some challenges during the academic year, with lockdown, frequent changes of regulations and closure of bubbles and classes. Despite all the challenges, the school continued supporting the students and their families and did its utmost to provide education and care.

In terms of the music therapy work – music therapy continued to be an integral part of the school services and being part of the school’s nature. The service is well respected by the staff members and Senior Management Team. From next year I will work on both Mondays and Fridays in school which I am really looking forward to. It will give me the opportunity to take a bigger role in the school and feel more connected to the students and staff.

Get In Touch

If you would like to find out more about music therapy we'd love to hear from you.
Please complete the form below or give us a call.