**Please note: I write this specifically to music therapists, because I *am* a music therapist (MT-BC). However, I believe the ideas in this post are valuable to anyone – professionals, parents, self-advocates, lay-persons alike.**
Some autism related topics have been coming up a lot lately in our MT forums. I thought I’d take the time to address several crucial topics in one blog post, and will be sharing this post in those threads.
First, the topic of “high” or “low” functioning.
1. I challenge you to consider the way you refer to your clients. Do you use those terms for your own convenience when quickly describing an individual? Or maybe you assumed these were PC terms and had no idea how abelist they really are? Many MTs have expressed this sentiment to me, so if this describes you, you’re not alone. Good news is, there’s only one direction up from here.
2. Now I challenge you to read this article.
3. I challenge you to watch this short film on the same topic. (Patience required in the first 3 mins while specific comparisons are established. Trigger Warnings: abelist slurs and insults, photos of raw meat from cattle.)
4. I challenge you to consider your use of person-first and identity-first language. Do you see the correlations between the Deaf community and Autistic community? I challenge you to read pages 18-23 in this document:
**For the record, I use terminology that is preferred by the person with whom I am communicating. When in doubt or when speaking publicly, I use the term “on the spectrum.” This is because identity-first OR person-first language can be extremely offensive to different individuals.**
5. I challenge you to rid yourself of abelist language and continually challenge those around you to do the same. Read the article below for examples of abelist language, you may be surprised how often you do it.
6. I challenge you, music therapist, to spend time in self-reflection, asking yourself, “do I truly presume competence in my clients?” I challenge you to think of the ways you present session material. When “meeting your client where they are,” are your goals and objectives at a preschool level because their “behaviors” (in your perspective) are at that level, therefore you assume they are cognitively at preschool level so you treat them as such? Classic example, chicken versus egg. Please don’t get stuck in that cycle with your clients. All behavior has meaning, all behavior is communication. This does not “prove” a person’s intelligence.
7. Now I challenge you to throw out your pre-conceived notions of Facilitated Communication and Rapid Prompt Method that are based on the media hype of the 1990’s when a few fraudulent facilitators brought discredit to the whole movement. But if you’ve not heard of either, let’s work on that right now. Start here to learn about FC (or more accurately known as Supported Typing). Start here to learn about RPM.
8. I also want to challenge you to learn about MT-BCs who support this type of communication in their work. Suzanne Oliver at ACT School, Casey DePriest at ACCESS Academy, and yours truly along with Kerry Cornelius at Hussman Institute.
9. I challenge you to learn from researchers who are demonstrating that autism is much more of a “movement difference” than it is a “social disorder.”
What about the ongoing debates about vaccines, environmental toxicity, the host of comorbid medical issues that people on the spectrum and their families face, along with the role of pharmaceuticals and the pharm industry in relation to all things autism?
10. I challenge you to listen to all perspectives, to continually read and study current research, and to remain nonpartisan on these topics unless you or a family member is directly affected by it. Either that, or earn further degrees in medicine or environmental science.
And lastly, 11. I challenge you to become aware of some perspectives that are in strong opposition to widely-accepted ABA therapies. I bring this up, not to express my own opinions on the topic (which are complex and not the purpose of this post, so perhaps another day) but simply to raise awareness that there are different opinions out there which deserve to be heard.
Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention that I created an online CMTE largely on the topic of the Neurodiversity Movement and some of the topics introduced above. You can find it on Music Therapy & Neuro Ed.
I include myself in every one of these challenges and I invite you to do the same. I welcome your thoughts and respectful dialogue in the comments below.