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The growing need for music therapy services for adults with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities), including ASD (autism spectrum disorder), calls for more research, forums, and publications in our field. In this AMTA-Pro podcast, the first of a 2-part series, speakers Jennifer Jones, Nicole Rivera, and Todd Schwartzberg encourage a renewed profession-wide emphasis on the unique needs of this expanding population. They begin that process by talking briefly about the history of music therapy with these adults and providing an overview of available publications and research. They summarize two descriptive studies and talk through case examples with a special focus on post‐high school transitions, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the unique needs of older adults with IDD. Part 2 of the “MT for Adults with IDD” AMTA-Pro podcast series features an insightful conversation with clinician Ellen Rayfield talking about her work with this population.

MT for Adults with IDD – Part 1

AMTA-Pro Podcast + May, 2016

Jennifer D. Jones, PhD, MT‐BC; Nicole R. Rivera, EdD, MT‐BC;
Todd. Schwartzberg, MEd, MT‐BC

— + —

Disability is broad term labeling people worldwide, including individuals with physical, mental, intellectual and sensory issues. People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) may experience issues related to as many as all four. Intellectual and developmental disabilities begin in childhood and last a lifetime, making intervention and support life-long needs. The points below outline  the conversation by speakers in this AMTA-Pro podcast, the first in a two-part series.

1. Historical Review.

2. Literature Review.

3. Highlights from 3 articles including quantitative case study research and qualitative research.

4. Overview of an ethnographic interview study – Exploring Music Therapy Services for Adolescents and Adults with ASD – and brief discussion of findings about needs of adults with ASD and clinical concerns resulting from that study.

5. Overview of a study in process – A Mixed Method Descriptive Study of Music Therapy with Adults who have Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities – and discussion of emerging findings about session flow, types of clients, intervention types, “challenging” and “typical” clients, materials and music, documentation, funding, role in treatment team.

6. Overview of post high school transition based on Transition Toolkit for Systems Improvement which includes five standards related to school – career preparatory experiences, youth development and leadership, family involvement, and connecting activities – as well as critical life skills including mobility, recreation and leisure, health and safety, financial management, personal appearance, personal appearance, social skills, work habits, maintaining dignity.

7. Description of music therapy for individuals for post-high school transition.

8. Case examples of group music therapy for adults with IDD.

9. Case examples of individual music therapy for adults with IDD.

References and Resources

Note: This list was compiled for Meeting a Growing Need: Music Therapy with Adults who have Intellectual Disabilities – a session presented at 2015 AMTA conference by Jennifer Jones, PhD, MT-BC, Nicole Rivera, EdD, MT-BC, and Todd Schwartzberg, MEd, MT-BC


Farnan, L. A (2007). Music therapy and developmental disabilities: A glance back and a look forward. Music Therapy Perspectives, 25(2), 80-85.

Hanley-Maxwell, C., & Collet-Klingenberg, L. (2011). Education. In G. L. Albrecht’s (Series Editor) Disability: Key issues and future directions. Washington, DC: Sage.

Hooper, J., Wigram, T., Carson, D., & Lindsay, B. (2008). A review of the music and intellectual disability literature (1943-2006) Part one-Descriptive and Philosophical Writing. Music Therapy Perspectives, 26, 66-79.

Hooper, J., Wigram, T., Carson, D., & Lindsay, B. (2008). A review of the music and intellectual disability literature (1943-2006) Part two-Experimental Writing. Music Therapy Perspectives, 26, 80-96.

Hoyle, J. N., & McKinney, C. H. (2015). Music therapy in the bereavement of adults with intellectual disabilities: A clinical report. Music Therapy Perspectives, 33(1), 39-44. doi: 10.1093/mtp/miu051

Lee, J. (2014). A phenomenological study of the interpersonal relationships between five music therapists and adults with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities. Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy, 9, 43-86.

Lee, J., & McFerran, K. (2012). The improvement of nonverbal communication skills of five females with profound and multiple disabilities using song-choices in music therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 12(3).

Pavlicevic, M., O’Neil, N., Powell, H., Jones, O., & Sampathianaki E. (2014). Making music, making friends: Long-term music therapy with young adults with severe learning disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 18(1), 5-19.

Phelps, L. A., & Hanley-Maxwell, C. (1997). School-to-work transition for youth with disabilities: A review of outcomes and practices. Review of Educational Research, 67, 197-226.

World Health Organization (2000). Ageing and Intellectual Disabilities – Improving Longevity and Promoting Healthy Ageing: Summative Report. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

Voices, 2014, Volume 14 Issue 3 – Special Issue on Music Therapy and Disability Studies


Andsell, A. (1995). Music for life: Aspects of Creative Music Therapy for adult clients. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Barksdale, A. L. (2003). Music therapy and leisure for persons with disabilities. Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.

Galerstein, N., Martin, K., & Powe, D. L. (2005). Age appropriate activities for adults with profound mental retardation: A collaborative design by music therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona. About 12 structured activities involving sound and music appropriate for MTs or OT, SLP; musical repertoire is dated.

Hanley-Maxwell, C., & Collet-Klingenberg, L. (2011). Education. In G. L. Albrecht’s (Series Editor) Disability: Key issues and future directions. Washington, DC: Sage.

National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition. (2005). National standards and quality indicators: Transition toolkit for systems improvement. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

Ramey, M. (2011). Group music activities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Numerous music experience ideas for music therapists.

Watson, T. (2007). Music therapy with adults with learning disabilities. Hove, UK: Routledge. Ten chapter book that thoroughly covers history, music therapy treatment, and work with specific diagnoses or conditions (autism, dual diagnosis with mental illness, aggressiveness).

Wehman, P., Smith, M. D., & Schall, C. (2009). Autism & the transition to adulthood: Success beyond the classroom. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Baltimore: MD.

Chapters on Adults:
Darnley-Smith, R., & Patey, H. (2003). Music therapy: Creative therapies in practice (pp. 121-137). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Chapter – four case studies, creative MT

Davies, A., & Richards, E. (Eds). (2002). Music therapy and group work: Sound company. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Chapters 8 and 9

Snow, S. (2009). The development of a music therapy assessment tool: A pilot study. In S. Snow & M. D’Amico (Eds.) Assessment in the creative arts therapies: Designing and adapting assessment tools for adults with developmental disabilities (pp. 47-98). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Watson, T. (2002). Music therapy with adults who have learning disabilities. In. L. Bunt & S. Hoskyns (Eds) The handbook of music therapy (pp. 97-114). New York: Brunner- Routledge. Note: this chapter include brief history of services, theoretical overview, case study.

About the AMTA-Pro podcast speakers

Jennifer D. Jones, PhD, MT-BC, has been a Board Certified Music Therapy for more than twenty years. Prior to college teaching, she was a clinician providing music therapy for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to persons recovering from mental illness in acute care hospitals. She has 12 of college teaching experience including 10 years at Western Illinois University, where she is an Associate Professor and Director of Music Therapy. Her research has been published in Journal of Music Therapy, Southern Music Educator’s Journal, and Music Therapy Perspectives, for which she is currently an Associate Editor.

Edward Todd Schwartzberg, M.Ed., MT-BC is a professor and the music therapy clinic coordinator at the University of Minnesota. Todd teaches classes, conducts research, and provides private and group music therapy sessions for children and young adults with ASD and other neurological and physical disabilities through the On-Campus Music Therapy Clinic. Todd is also the current President of the Board of Directors for the Autism Society of Minnesota and Assembly of Delegate for the Great Lakes Region of the American Music Therapy Association.

Nicole R. Rivera, Ed.D., MT-BC, is a psychology professor at North Central College.  Prior to teaching, Nicole worked as a music therapist and school administrator for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Nicole’s scholarship has focused on family-based music therapy, music therapy for people with ASD, and the influence of culture on music therapy.