The Boston Conservatory Announces Partnership with Music for Autism International

April 08, 2016

Boston Conservatory at Berklee, a leader in performing arts training and champion of autism and education, has signed a groundbreaking partnership with Music for Autism International* that will globally expand the conservatory’s pioneering work in the autism field.

Music for Autism International was founded in the United Kingdom in 2014 and builds self-sustaining music programs for autistic students around the world. It has already established programs in Hong Kong, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.

In 2008, the Boston Conservatory became the first conservatory in the world to offer specialized music instruction for individuals on the autism spectrum, ages nine and older. These private lessons were taught by specially-trained graduate students enrolled in the conservatory’s esteemed music education program.

“For autistic individuals, music organizes sensorially a world that is otherwise chaotic,” explains Rhoda Bernard, Ed.D., who serves as chair of music education and director of autism spectrum programs for the conservatory. “Just existing in the world is a rush of sensory experience, and that is especially difficult for people on the autism spectrum. To have something organize that for you, even for a little bit, can be very comforting and create a strong affinity.”

In its eight years, the conservatory’s Private Music Lessons program for autistic individuals has achieved extraordinary results. The success of the program has allowed the conservatory to expand its offerings for individuals on the autism spectrum to include: Music Program for Young Children (ages 3-5), Step by Step! dance class (ages 8-12), Inner Harmony Chorus (all ages) and an Autism-Friendly Performance presented at Boston Conservatory Theater.

“Many of our students will come in and at first things are chaotic for them and you can tell they are not having a great time. Then the music starts and everything changes. There is joy. There is relaxation. There is calm. There is focus and attention. It’s a remarkable thing to witness and I get to see it all the time,” Bernard says. 

Additionally, the conservatory offers a number of resources for teachers and professionals, such as an annual Conference for Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum, and is currently the only higher education institution in the world to offer a Master of Music in Music Education with an Autism Concentration and a Graduate Certificate in Music and Autism. These programs have set the international standard for training music educators how to work effectively with autistic students.

Bernard says that the new alliance with Music for Autism International will allow the conservatory to expand its teacher training programs on a global scale. The partnership will also give the conservatory’s program access to much larger student populations to help advance research in the field. 

“This is really the next logical step for us. We are going strong and we want to take this program on the road,” says Bernard. “We are at a really unique time in the history of this work and the history of this field. There is much greater awareness of the autism spectrum in the general public and an expressed need for educators to work with and nurture this population.”

* Music for Autism International is a separate organization from the similarly-named Music for Autism program, which is based in New York and the UK.