Archive for the 'Special Needs' Category

New Online Creative Caregiving Guide

NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide

Imagine a world where every caregiving act for adults with alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders contributes to quality days for both the caregiver and their care partner.

The public is invited to utilize FREE video clips and curriculum materials developed by the National Center for Creative Aging to facilitate cognition, self-expression, movement and social connection in adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders.*

The guide is constantly expanding with lessons for additional languages and cultures.

* Note from Ping Ho, MA, MPH – Founding Director of UCLArts and Healing:

The lessons are applicable to other populations such as special needs and young children.

Dance/Movement therapy for hospitalized kids

Lori Baudino

Lori Baudino, PsyD, BC-DMT is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified dance/movement therapist who brought the first dance/movement therapy programs to Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles through funding by The Andréa Rizzo Foundation (for Dréa’s Dream pediatric dance therapy programming).

Click here to view a TED-style talk by Dr. Baudino describing the experiences of hospitalized children and how dance/movement therapy meets their needs (sponsored by the American Dance Therapy Association).

Click here to view a UCLA Health website article featuring Dr. Baudino describing how she works with children in the hospital, how she got connected with Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, and a particularly memorable experience.

Click here to view footage of Dr. Baudino doing dance/movement therapy with children at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA.

Music improves behavior and memory in Alzheimer’s patients


The UCLA Tunes for Alzheimer’s Patients program provides music to residents of nursing homes to improve memory and behavior, such as depression, apathy, agitation frustration, poor eating, and difficulty sleeping.   This program is a collaboration between the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA and a national nonprofit organization, Music & Memory.

The program seeks donations of ipods and mp3 players, itunes gift cards, headphones, and other audio-related equipment..

Click here to read the UCLA Vital Signs publication on the Tunes for Alzheimer’s Patients program in which Joshua Grill, PhD (assistant professor of neurology and director of the Katherine and Benjamin Kagan Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment Development Program at UCLA’s Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research) shares what is known about the therapeutic benefits of music or patients with forms of dementia.

Click here to view the companion video that features an interview with Dr. Grill, some patients and their partners.

Click here to view a video clip of a man with Alzheimer’s who becomes verbally responsive upon hearing his favorite music on an ipod. This clip is from the documentary film, Alive inside.

Movement and music therapies for autism

Christina Devereux  site

The American Dance Therapy Association is building a Youtube channel that will include TED-type talks about dance/movement therapy with different populations.

The first of the videos was posted in honor of Autism Awareness Month: a 12-minute talk about dance/movement therapy and autism by Christina Devereaux, PhD, LCAT, LMHC, BC-DMT, NCC, who eloquently describes the capacity of dance /movement therapy to produce treatment outcomes in the area of social relationships, and particularly in their formation. Understanding bodily cues and joining in those movements enables a playful dialogue of movement that leads to connection. Then behavior patterns can be channeled towards social engagement. Click here to view the video on dance/movement therapy and autism.


Click here to view a short and fun video demonstration on how rhythm and movement go together by board-certified music therapist, Kat Fulton.


Click here to read the full 2013 review article from Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, entitled: A review of “music and movement” therapies for children with autism: embodied interventions for multisystem development. 

Authors Srinivasan and Bhat from the University of Connecticut summarized their research in the abstract below:

The rising incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) has led to a surge in the number of children needing autism interventions. This paper is a call to clinicians to diversify autism interventions and to promote the use of embodied music-based approaches to facilitate multisystem development. Approximately 12% of all autism interventions and 45% of all alternative treatment strategies in schools involve music-based activities. Musical training impacts various forms of development including communication, social-emotional, and motor development in children with ASDs and other developmental disorders as well as typically developing children. In this review, we will highlight the multisystem impairments of ASDs, explain why music and movement therapies are a powerful clinical tool, as well as describe mechanisms and offer evidence in support of music therapies for children with ASDs. We will support our claims by reviewing results from brain imaging studies reporting on music therapy effects in children with autism. We will also discuss the critical elements and the different types of music therapy approaches commonly used in pediatric neurological populations including autism. We provide strong arguments for the use of music and movement interventions as a multisystem treatment tool for children with ASDs. Finally, we also make recommendations for assessment and treatment of children with ASDs, and provide directions for future research.

View creativity conference videos from spring 2013

Click on the link below to view footage in 18 labeled segments from our April 7, 2013 conference entitled, “On the Edge of Chaos: Finding Flow and Resilience through Creativity & the Arts”.Image

Dance for All joins UCLArts and Healing

Dance For All offers dance, yoga and performance opportunities for teens and adults with developmental disabilities to build a community that cultivates self-esteem and empowers individuals to find vision, voice and leadership.  Dance for All is now an official program within UCLArts and Healing.

Dance for All teaches:

  • Yoga Breathing and Movement – to help regulate the nervous system, manage energy and emotions, develop strength and self-awareness.
  • Dance and Choreography – to widen the range of movement abilities, develop gross and fine motor skills, increase kinesthetic coordination, facilitate creative and emotional expression, and find a voice through the language of movement. Through individual and group projects, participants develop leadership and social skills.
  • Performances – to highlight accomplishments, skills and spirit.  Participants work together to create solo and group pieces that are performed in various community venues.

Volunteer and internship opportunities are also available to provide assistance with weekly classes, dance projects and community performances.

For volunteer and internship/training opportunities, or to register for dance classes: Contact Hilary Kern at

Click here for more information, including testimonials.

Silent Drum: Tips for Rhythmic Meditation

Silent Drum: Tips for Rhythmic Meditation

According to board certified music therapist, Christine Stevens, “Drumming may be the oldest form of active meditation known to humanity.” In this article, Christine explores the parallels between meditation and drumming, and shares her perspective on the added value of drumming.  She also offers tips on how to use it for meditation.

What could meditation and drumming possibly have in common? I’ve been asking myself this question ever since I heard world-famous sound healing expert Jill Purce say “The purpose of sound is silence.”

First, both meditation and drumming help us get out of our heads and into our hearts. They just go about it in different ways. In meditation, placing our attention on the breath occupies the mind. In drumming, the rhythm becomes a mantra that captures our attention. You can’t drum while thinking. Both act as mind sweepers; to clear the mental space of worries and negative thought patterns.

Second, both meditation and drumming are practices that focus on remembering rather than learning. Meditative states are quite natural and simple, but not easy. Drumming is similar. Within the rhythm, we encounter remembering of heartbeats in the womb and rhythms our bodies long to express.

Third, both meditation and drumming are tools to connect with spiritual realms and the non-physical. We travel along both the silence and rhythm paths as portals into the spiritual space where we breathe deeply, relax and re-connect with the heart and soul.

But there is one difference.

Drumming just may get you there quicker. Drumming just may be better suited for hyper, over-active, ADHD types of people, like me! After a drum circle at the Teton Wellness Festival, a participant came up to me and shared that drumming helped her “drop in” to her meditation practice immediately.

Here are some tips on how to drum your way into silence;

  • Create a sacred space where you can settle in.
  • Prepare to drum by placing your hand over your heart. Take a deep breath. Breath into an intention for your meditation. Place your open hand on the drum and rub the drum in a circular fashion, infusing your intention into the drum.
  • Now you are ready to drum. Play a simple pulse, rhythm or whatever feels good to you. Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think. You may use a play-along CD as well, like The Healing Drum Kit which includes twenty-seven play-along rhythms for specific intentions. The specific rhythm is not as important as releasing all self-criticism and allowing yourself to liberate your creative spirit.
  • Give yourself at least a minimum of four minutes to fall into the beat. Significant biological signs of relaxation typically occur after four minutes of drumming.
  • When you are ready, come to a stop by fading your drumming into silence.
  • Put down your drum and focus on your breath. Feel the rhythm of your breath gently drumming your body. Stay in this meditative state for as long as you desire in a sitting meditation.
  • Complete your practice by gently returning and honoring your drum.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq. To learn more, visit

Click here to view the article from Christine Stevens’s website:

Click here to download a pdf copy of the article.

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Getting Out of the Way: Music for Special Needs

Getting Out of the Way: Music for Special Needs

The creative arts therapies offer nonverbal strategies for motivating engagement in special needs populations.  Board certified music therapist Summer Mencher, offers insights on the use of music and music therapy with special needs children.

The more training I get, the more songs I learn, the more instruments I acquire and the more interventions I put in my box of tools, the more I realize that the most powerful asset I have as a music therapist is being ready to be unready. I’m in no way stating that having a plan and mapping out ideas is not necessary. However, I do feel it is essential to realize the importance of being present enough, brave enough, trusting enough and committed enough to get out of the way and let the child lead.

Working 1:1 with children with special needs, and being inspired by fellow music therapists and other professionals, I have found that change is most authentic when we let go of control and allow the kids to be the leaders. From my experience, I have found that kids don’t tend to think things to death. They instinctively know what they need. When the child has this unique opportunity to be the boss, I have observed that their instinctual knowing takes over and they do exactly as their inner doctor prescribes in order for their greatest growth to occur.

For example, a child might play loudly and chaotically on the drums for 10 weeks straight without even acknowledging the therapist, only to one day feel enough release and support and safety to speak for the first time in years, seemingly “out of nowhere.” Or, a child might not touch any musical instruments at all, and instead wander around the building, while the therapist does what can be referred to as a “holding song.” This might appear as if nothing is being accomplished, but if one looks deeper, it becomes clear that this child is working on gait training, gross motor movement and entrainment to the tempo (or pace) of the song. Further, he is gaining independence, autonomy and empowerment by having the therapist validate engagement in this manner. It becomes apparent that there is much more than meets the eye.

Of course, every child is incredibly unique and some will blossom more fully with a more behaviorist approach. However, what I have found across the board is that the most important piece is motivation. Getting a reward provides temporary motivation for completing a task. But if the task in itself is motivating, that can create real, lasting change. By allowing the child to be in charge, you will invariably discover what they are most excited about, what makes them tick. This is golden. This is what you build the session or the day around.

She loves 70s disco music? GREAT! Let’s work on balance and equilibrium through dancing to their favorite tracks. He loves toy cars? WONDERFUL! Let’s work on our VV and MM sounds by making up a song where the chorus says Vroom Vroom Vroom and sing it together while playing with them. She loves water? PERFECT! Let’s work on concepts of hot and cold, on and off, in and out, by writing songs about opposites and allow her to fill in the blanks of what she is doing while she is doing it. The examples go on and on.

The seed I hope you will plant with the special needs population is to make the plans, but be willing to throw them out the window if they’re not working, or if something richer arises. Learn the skills, but learn them so well that you’re comfortable not knowing which ones you will need in any given moment. Challenge the child to be flexible and willing to enter into new and unfamiliar territory, but also be ready to do the same. Pave the path to success and then get out of the way.


Summer Mencher, MT-BC, is a Board Certified Music Therapist with a degree in music therapy from Berklee College of Music in Boston.  She is the founder of the organization Rhythm & Truth Music Therapy, which is specifically aimed at empowering youth at-risk. As a Music Therapist, Summer uses a wide variety of music modalities (including a diverse selection of instruments, songs, improvisational techniques, relaxation techniques and creative arts) to establish non-musical goals. She has worked with youth at-risk, individuals with special needs, survivors of torture, cancer survivors, and all ages and ranges of individuals in hospitals, hospice, schools, psychiatric hospitals, rehab facilities, nursing homes, and more.  To learn more, visit

Click here to download a pdf file of this treatise

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