Samantha D. Jimenez is a 2014 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle


autism spectrum disorder, autism, music, grounded theory, music teachers, music teaching

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The purpose of this grounded-theory qualitative study was to explore how music teachers successfully work with students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many individuals with ASD are impacted daily by social and communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, executive functioning challenges, and restricted or rigid behaviors. Current research, literature, media, and ASD and music circles support that music is a powerful medium for individuals with ASD. Benefits of music for individuals with ASD include therapeutic advantages, various improvements in skills, social opportunities, emergence of gifts and talents, and emotional outlets. Regular exposure to learning music in the U.S. is typically through music lessons or classes. Therefore, it was critical to seek a better understanding of how individuals with ASD can receive optimal learning experiences for music. Using a qualitative grounded theory approach, interviews were conducted with four music teachers who currently teach individuals with ASD. The interviews were transcribed verbatim, and the transcriptions were analyzed. The data analysis yielded a theory drawn from both the unique and similar experiences shared by the music teachers. The participants have been successful in teaching their students with ASD because of the following three elements: music as the goal (fostering music enjoyment and experience), different levels of success (acceptance of variable abilities and skills and adjusting expectations for each individual), and positivity (creating opportunities for empowerment and confidence). The participants also identified strategies that support and drive these elements: concrete strategies (tools used to accommodate needs), stylistic strategies (non-traditional and flexible teaching approaches), and attitudinal strategies (deeper understanding of students). These elements and strategies can be utilized as foundational guidelines for music teachers, giving them important material to consider if they plan to work with individuals with ASD. The electronic version of this dissertation is at OhioLink ETD Center,