Over the past several years, I have noticed a trend in some of my music therapy sessions.  As a music therapist primarily working with children diagnosed with Autism, the need for a set routine can be an issue for many of my students.  While I have found that they LOVE music and respond in ways that continually AMAZE me, it is sometimes difficult to introduce new strategies and new activities.  We start therapy and get into a great groove.  Suddenly the client requests the same songs every single session! When something new is presented, you get resistance, refusal, or avoidance.

Ever been there?

I have. And I’ll admit that I’m guilty of continuing in the safe/familiar/established routine longer than necessary.  Primarily because I don’t like change either!

When, as music therapists, we decide to introduce something new in order to encourage continued progress and depart from the norm, how can we make this process easier for our clients and ourselves?

Here are 5 easy tips that have helped me!

1. Use a visual schedule. If your client already uses a visual schedule during sessions, make sure to add the new picture that represents the song or strategy.  You could even make a special picture that the client would recognize over time as “here comes a new one!”

2. Don’t change everything at once. Introducing one new music activity per session is plenty!

3. Let them listen. The first time you present a strategy, don’t force any specific response. If the client tolerates the new song simply by listening, then consider it successful!  I have actually spent several weeks in the “listening only” phase before the new intervention was accepted!

4. Use a first/then strategy. This could be in picture or verbal form (whatever is best for the client). Pair an un-preferred new task with a reward of a preferred familiar task.  Use the language “First we will do (new activity), and then we will do (preferred activity).”

5. Start again. Ironically, the new music intervention usually becomes my client’s new favorite song!! Once the music intervention is mastered and becomes a favorite, move it over to the “preferred task/reward” category and introduce something new!

How do you introduce new songs and music strategies to your clients when they resist change in their routine? I would love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment below.