Stephanie Carvalho ’17 has always felt drawn to and inspired by music. In high school, she was involved in chorus, band, and the spring musical every year, but as a freshman at Westfield State, music was not immediately a part of her world as a psychology major.
“I knew there was a huge part of me missing,” says Carvalho, who decided to research potential careers that combined psychology with music and determined she would major in music with a minor in psychology. She aims to become a music therapist and focused on that work in her honors project, Music Therapy on the Autism Spectrum, which she presented
in spring 2017.
The project explored the use of music therapy in treating people who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While Carvalho has no personal connection to the autism community, she was drawn to study ASD after working from February 2016 to May 2017 at Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley, a post-graduate program for students with intellectual disabilities.
Carvalho researched existing literature on music therapy and ASD and interviewed many professionals—from two local music therapists to a paraprofessional who studied music at Westfield State and has experience with music therapists in his classroom. She discovered that music therapy can be beneficial to students with ASD who struggle with communication and social skills. “Music creates a safe space, providing structure but also a platform to learn new things,” Carvalho says.
Carvalho is now an advocate for music therapy in schools, particularly elementary schools, since early intervention is key. She says implementing one-on-one music therapy sessions into students’ individualized education programs can benefit them in the long-term. “Music is something that many people, whether neurotypical or not, are drawn to and enjoy,” says Carvalho. “It engages many senses, from the obvious aural stimulation of the music, but also to the physical touch of the instruments. If the client responds to music and will accomplish the same goals as other treatments while having fun, you’re only making his or her life better.”