Sunday, May 19, 2024

Episode #92: Music Therapy & Positive Discipline Strategies for Neurodivergent Success

Forget tantrums! Discover the Music Therapy Hacks Parents of Neurodivergent Kids NEED to Know! Struggling with your neurodivergent child? Board-certified music therapist Samantha Foote joins Water Prairie Chronicles to show how music & positive ...
The Water Prairie Chronicles Podcast airs new episodes every Friday at Noon EST!

Find the full directory at

Forget tantrums! Discover the Music Therapy Hacks Parents of Neurodivergent Kids NEED to Know!

Show Notes:

Struggling with your neurodivergent child? Board-certified music therapist Samantha Foote joins Water Prairie Chronicles to show how music & positive discipline create harmony! Learn 5 musical coping skills & how music therapy complements other therapies. Discover how to unlock your child’s potential & create a joyful parenting journey!

👉 Connect with Samantha:

Links mentioned by Samantha during the interview:

📰 Are you getting our newsletter? If not, subscribe at

👉 Support our podcast and help us share more incredible stories by making a donation at Buy Me A Coffee. Your contribution makes a significant impact in bringing these stories to light. Thank you for your support!

Music Used:

“LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.



Feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a neurodivergent child? This episode is here to bring harmony to the chaos!

Join Tonya Wollum as she chats with Samantha Foote, a board-certified music therapist, Positive Discipline Parent Educator, and registered Music Together teacher. Samantha has a unique approach that blends the power of music with positive discipline strategies, creating a supportive and effective toolbox for parents.

In this interview, you’ll discover:

  • How to use music therapy techniques to address common challenges faced by parents of neurodivergent children.
  • Five musical coping skills you can incorporate into your daily routine (no prior musical experience needed!).
  • How music therapy can complement other therapies your child might be receiving.
  • Strategies for adapting music therapy to your child’s specific needs and preferences.

Tune in and learn how to unlock your child’s potential and create a more harmonious and joyful parenting experience!



Samantha is a board-certified music therapist, a Positive Discipline Parent Educator, and a registered Music Together teacher. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Utah State University and completed her Masters of Music with a specialization in Music Therapy degree from Colorado State University. She is a Neurological Music Therapy Fellow and a Dialectical Behavior Therapy-informed Music Therapist.


Episode #92: Music Therapy & Positive Discipline Strategies for Neurodivergent Success

Forget tantrums! Discover the Music Therapy Hacks Parents of Neurodivergent Kids NEED to Know!

(Recorded March 27, 2024)

Full Transcript of Interview:

Tonya: Well, Samantha, welcome to Water Prairie.

Samantha: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited.

Well, this is, I I’ve featured a music teacher before, and we talked about some of the, um, the changes that he makes to help address the needs of some of the students, but that’s the only time that we’ve been able to talk about music before.

So I’ve really been excited about this. I appreciated you contacting me and letting me know what you’re doing. Um, you wear many hats. You’re a music therapist, you’re a positive discipline educator, and you’re a parent of not just one child that’s neurodiverse. So you understand a lot of what we’re going to be talking about today.

How did you find music therapy intersected with your own parenting journey, especially for neurodivergent children?

I became a music therapist in 2011, and then I became a mom in 2015. So I was working with the neurodivergent population before I became a mom. And everyone said, you are going to have kids that are neurodivergent because You’re you work so well with the neurodivergent population.

And I said, that is not how that works, but it turns out when you’re neurodivergent yourself and you marry a neurodivergent man, you have neurodivergent children. So that’s how that worked out. But, um, yeah, just, I think it really prepared me to be a mom and understand my kids and just know how to help them and know, you know, their sensory issues there and how to recognize it.

Because when my oldest was diagnosed, everyone was like, Oh, he doesn’t have autism. He’s fine. And, but due to my work. I understood. I saw the sensory signs. I saw the social skills signs. He wasn’t communicating like a typical toddler did. And so I was able to help him and I was able to get him diagnosed.

Excellent. So you, you understand what I’m about to say. A lot of our listeners will, but those who are listening to support, I just kind of wanted to clarify some of the thoughts here for this next question. Parents of neurodivergent children. And I’m one of those, they face a lot of challenges. Sometimes they’ll face meltdowns.

Sometimes transitions can be a huge block in what. What can happen? I know for us, a lot of times it was just, you know, where are the shoes? Where are the socks? And then the stress level so high that we can’t even go wherever we’re going. Um, other times it’s just a frustration issue, but it’s, um, these challenges really build up with them.

Can you share some specific example of how you’ve used music therapy techniques that are informed by positive discipline to address some of those challenges?

Yeah. So for example, understanding your emotions, like having. A meltdown because they don’t understand what they’re feeling. We use music to teach them how to understand their emotions, how to process their emotions, and then how to use coping skills appropriately.

So for example, I might teach about anger and I use a Diane Alber books, the spot books, the emotion spot books for the younger kids. And we read the book about anger. And then we write a song about anger. And we write the lyrics and. We talk about like, what does anger feel like? What does it taste like?

What does it sound like? And we go through all the different senses, the five senses, not all the different senses we have, but we go through the five main senses because I’ve noticed, well, not I’ve noticed in research and just knowing neurodivergent kids, um, They have a really hard time with flexible thinking.

And so we’re expanding the flexible thinking by saying, what does anger sound like? What does it taste like? And they, they say, well, anger doesn’t taste like anything. I say, if you, if you had to imagine the anger tasted like something, what would it taste like? So we’re really trying to expand the flexible thinking within that.

And then we say, We write four different ways that when you feel anger, what can you do? And then I feel anger when, you know, they fill in the blank. So I feel anger when my brother takes my toy, I feel anger when my mom tells me no, and so we really get specific situations where they feel that anger. And then we have specific things that they can do, you know, they can listen to music, they can go play the piano, they can scream into a pillow, they can, you know, just positive coping skills.

And then, so that’s how we teach them to understand their emotions and identify their emotions. And then how to use the coping skill, we teach that when they’re feeling calm. So that when they’re in the anger moment, it’s just a natural thing that they can do rather than their mom or dad trying to be like, okay, now we’re going to do this and you’ve never done it before, but we’re going to do this now.

So that’s one of the ways that we use music therapy to help with emotions. You know, meltdowns and stuff.

And I could see how that, that would be a definite benefit. We, we always had music in our home and a lot of times it would be a silly way of helping to diffuse situations where there was one day I remember we actually, the two kids and I, we just sang opera to each other for about an hour.

Because, and everything that we felt we put into those falsetto voices, but it helped to, to allow us just to have fun by, by the end of it all. And it did relieve stress for me as a mom as well.

Yeah. I remember, um, just speaking about funny things. My. My. My. Sisters are a lot younger than me. They’re all in their early twenties, like late teens, early twenties.

I’m in my like mid thirties, you know, late thirties. And I was at my parents house. My sisters were being completely ridiculous and my mom was just done. And so she’s like, she turned on some Bon Jovi and just started dancing. And my sisters looked at her and they were like, what are you doing? And then they just started dancing too.

And we just had a dance party when before that everyone was arguing. And I just thought that was genius of my mom to do. She was just like, I’m done with this. And we are, and it relieved her stress. It relieved everyone else’s stress. And then they were able to talk about what, what the actual problem was after they had all just deescalated a little bit.

Right. And I think there’s so much value in that because it gets your whole body into it. It’s, um.


So one thing I did want to ask, I know when my kids were little, I would love to have had formal music therapy. I didn’t know it was even a thing. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know. But I’ve talked to so many parents are down syndrome community, artistic community.

It’s, it’s there. It’s an option now. So I don’t know if it’s new or not, but it’s there. But I know a lot of our parents that are listening, they may feel overwhelmed by the types of therapies that they have, because there’s so much, they have OT, they have PT, they have speech, there’s just so much going on.

There’s very little time for the family already. How can music therapy be incorporated into a child’s existing routine alongside all those other therapies?

I really like music therapy because it can pull from those different things. Like, I work a lot with occupational therapists and speech therapists.

I’ve co treated with them. So we use music therapy at the same time that they’re getting the speech therapy, or the same time they’re getting the occupational therapy. And music affects more of the brain than any other stimulus, and so it can really help. Build new neural pathways in your brain that you’re trying to build.

And so that’s what I think the biggest positive about music therapy is, is that it’s motivating and it can change your brain faster than other things can. And so I completely understand that, you know, parents and kids are busy. They have so many different therapy appointments, like my own kids. I feel like I’m constantly taking them to therapy appointments.

So if you can get a music therapist that works with your other therapies, I think that would be the best, obviously not working on the exact same goals because that’s not appropriate, but just being informed about the other goals and like helping with them. And I know I’ve worked with occupational therapists who say, you know, when you’re doing your music therapy session, if you could incorporate this to work on.

And strengthen what they’re learning in occupational therapy, you know, or. You know, these are the sounds that we’re working on speech therapy. Can you incorporate them into music therapy? And, and sometimes kids need a break from those other therapies and they can get music therapy in the middle of that, or just as like a fun therapy that I am not saying the music therapy takes the place of those other therapies, but sometimes kids get, you know, sometimes kids get burned out on music therapy and they need a break from music therapy.

So, um, I think it can just help. With those other therapies in conjunction with those therapies to build better results.

So our kids that are in public schools and listeners, I’m, I’m focusing as always on the U S school system, just because that’s where the majority of what we’re addressing is from a lot of times they’re getting their.

There are other therapies while they’re in school is music therapy and option would would have music therapists push into the school and be incorporated into part of the IEP team. How would a parent orchestrate all of that?

Yeah. In some states, there are music therapists in schools. Um, you, the parents just have to push for it by law.

The school has to do a music therapy evaluation if that’s what the parent wants, but the parents have to really push for it. I know in Idaho, there’s not music therapists in the schools because no parent has really pushed for it. But in other States, you know, there’s full time music therapists in the schools.

So it just depends on the state you’re in, you know, if other parents have paved the way for you. Um, but definitely if you want music therapy. They have to give you at least an evaluation.

Okay. So they would, so they would bring that to their IEP team.




Um, and I would think too, that they may be able to get some support from the OT or the PT that they’re already working with.

If they can find someone who is familiar with music therapy.

Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

So, um, So music, we’ve talked about how it can be motivating. It can be calming. It can help relieve some of the stress. Like the example of you and your sisters, well, your mom and your sisters, I guess you were just coming into it.


But not all parents feel like they’re musical or feel comfortable with that. Can you elaborate on the five musical coping skills that you focus on and how parents can use them at home?

Yeah. So the first one we’ve already talked about, it’s identifying and teaching. Emotions and parents can just do that by, you know, like we said, reading the book, writing the songs, and you can use garage band to write songs.

It’s a really easy way to write songs. It comes free on all Apple products. And so if you have an Apple product, whether it’s, you know, the computer. Or an iPad or a phone, whatever you have, it is on there. And it’s a really simple way for kids and adults to be able to just write songs together. And that’s what I found kids can really get into the music because it’s accessible to them.

They don’t have to play an instrument. They can just type on, you know, uh, Screen. So we can do that. And then the next one is regulating emotions through music. So I recommend making a playlist of anger songs, a playlist of sad songs, a playlist of happy songs. And there’s this thing called the ISO principle, where you start in, like, if you’re angry, You want to listen to angry music and then slowly go to the next emotion that you want to feel.

So if you want to feel calm, you don’t start out using calm music. You have to really feel the emotion, work through the emotion, and then you can go to calm music. So I really recommend making those playlists in advance. So when you’re angry, you can turn on the angry playlist, and then you can go to your calm playlist.

Once you, you like. You know, work through those emotions.


Yeah. And then the next one is my favorite. It’s just creating personal retreats through music. And this can be done by playing an instrument. And you, when I say play an instrument, you don’t have to know how to play the piano to do this on a piano.

And like, I’m just like using one finger. And if you’ve never improvised on a piano, I just recommend that you do, you start with one finger and just, you know, um, play the keys. With your one finger, and then you can use two fingers, one on each hand. And then you can move to, maybe you just put your hand on the piano and you just play the notes that your hand can reach without moving your hand.

And if you want to play with another person, I recommend playing on the black keys of a piano. No matter what you play, it’s going to sound good together. It just creates a certain scale that sounds good together. And you don’t have to be a musician to do that. You can just play whatever you want and you can play it together.

And that’s really co regulating with your child. So, you know, you’re calm, you’re helping them be calm. And it’s just a fun thing that you can do together. There are so many benefits of making music together. Like it reduces cortisol, it increases dopamine, it increases the bonding chemical. Um, yeah. So it can just, you can really create a good bond that way.

And. Help them regulate themselves. Um, some other things that we’ve talked about, you know, listening to music, dance parties, songwriting, you can get, um, templates online that have songs that are popular. Like I like to use imagine dragons. Um, and they have just, it’s kind of like Mad Libs. I don’t know if you’ve ever played Mad Libs, you know, like where you just fill in a blank word.

Yeah. So you can do that and you can make it fun where the person doesn’t know what the song’s about. And you’re just like, okay, give me an adjective. Give me a noun. Give me whatever. Or you can do it seriously and be like, okay, this is the, you know, this is the lyric, here’s the missing word. What word are we going to put in that place?

And then you can sing the song because you know the melody already. It’s a popular song and you just put in your own lyrics. So that’s something that you can do too. You don’t have to be a musician to be able to do that.

Is that something that we can link for parents to find?

Yeah, for sure. Um, I, I’ll give you some examples.

I’ll send you some examples of ones that I’ve used.

Okay, great. Great.

And, um, so there’s two other ones. The next one is facilitating communication. So if you have a drum, if your child is very angry, I recommend Drumming and drum talk where your child gets a drum and you get a drum and you just play with each other and They go back and forth.

So you’re having a conversation, but you’re not allowed to use your words. You have to use the drum I did this with some siblings who came into my office. They were so mad at each other They were just yelling at each other and just not being appropriate. They’re being very rude to each other I So I gave one of them, I gave them both a drum.

They sat in different corners and I said, you just have to communicate through your drums, pretend you’re having a conversation. And it was very aggressive to begin with. They were interrupting each other. They were not taking turns. And then towards the end, it got calmer. They were waiting to listen to the other person.

I told them, you know, when you’re done drumming, just stop. And then we’ll go from there. When they were done drumming, they were actually able to have a conversation together and we were able to talk about what the problem was. So that’s another thing that you can do. Um, and the last one we’ve talked about transitioning and music can just aid and transitioning.

I know for a lot of autistic kids, they have PDA or pathological demand avoidance where you ask them to do something and they go into fight or flight because you’re asking them to do it. You’re placing a demand on them where you can use music. to signal some, to signal a transition so you can tell them, okay, you can, you know, play your computer game when this song comes on or when this sound comes on, it’s time to transition to this activity.

So when it’s time to transition, it’s not you telling them it’s time to transition. It’s the music telling them it’s time to transition. And it can also help, you know, like with kids who just have a hard time transitioning. Um, they know when they hear that sound that it’s time to go to a new activity.

I know a lot of our classroom teachers will use that, that technique for the classroom instead of, or instead of flashing lights or yelling at the class, they’ll have a chime or a music that goes.

And I could see the benefit of that. Um, if we have any teachers that are listening. If you have a child in your classroom that has a hard time with transition, that’d be a perfect way to help them to, to kind of gear up to it. I know we w we would use things like that with our kids just cause it, I was going to be talking to, I was blue in the face cause they weren’t going to hear me to begin with, but having something that wasn’t mom’s voice, they could hear it better.

It just was an easier way for them to, to, to gear up for those transitions. And we would do two where they had like a 10 minute window. And then when the final one came, then they, they, they, they knew it did cut down on a lot of the arguments and the stress level on my part when they were young.

Yeah, for sure.

So, um, music can be really individual. You’re talking about Bon Jovi and. Imagine Dragon’s Knot, they’re very different, different styles of music. Children can have very specific choices in the styles of music that they like, and it may not be what we choose as parents. They may respond to something so totally different.

How do you adapt your music therapy approach to cater to a child’s specific taste and their sensory needs?

I do an assessment to begin with, and then I ask the parents, you know, like, what kind of music does this child like? What kind of music do they respond well to? What kind of music do they absolutely hate?

Sometimes you play a song and kids just freak out because they do. Like my sister, when she was like a one year old, she would cry every time Josh Groban was put on. And it was sad because Josh Groban was one of my mom’s favorite artists, but she would just cry. And so. Or do there’s some kids that don’t like words to music.

And so if you sing, they, they just shut down. And so that’s important to tell your music therapist, obviously. And then it’s just trial and error. You know, you have to try some things, but when you find the song that finally like, Hits with that person, then, you know, you know, you struck gold. Um, but yeah, it’s just asking, asking the kids if they can tell you what they like, you know, if they’re old enough to tell you, asking the parents and then just trial and error, so that’s what, you know, and then we, it’s the same with instruments, you know, sometimes there’s this one kid that I could not engage him with anything.

Nothing that I worked, nothing that I did worked. To get his engagement. And then I brought bells one day, just the desk bells. He was right there with me and he was able to participate and he was able to play the music with me. He loved it. And so it’s just, yeah, it’s just all trial and error. You just have to learn what works.

And as you know, you get more into the field, you kind of have a better educated guess about what’s going to work.

I know even for me personally. There are certain ranges of sound that are more pleasing to me. It’s the vibrations of it. Everything can be more calming. And then others, I can walk into a church worship setting and I can just feel the stress level rising because of the amount of bass or something that’s going on.

So I think we’re all. Sensitive to different vibrations that are happening around us. So I could see that being a little challenging as you’re trying to figure out. Um, and, and hopefully if you’re in a group setting, you’re not setting off one and calming another.

Yeah. Groups are hard. So,

yeah, I, I, I could see that.

Yeah. Yeah. So when we do groups, we try to pair groups according to their musical, you know, um, Like what they like in music, their developmental age, their chronological age, um, so group groups are definitely hard because then you get kids that are super loud and then you have another kid that I just had this happen.

I walked into a group. I was not in charge of registering them. I was not in charge of putting them together. This facility just asked me to come and do a group and there were kids in there that were very sensitive to sound. And then there were other kids who were sensory seeking and they were very loud.

It did not work. So that’s just something to be aware of when you’re putting groups together. You have to be aware of what everyone’s saying.

Well, this, this season I’ve, if you’ve been listening listeners, you, you’re aware of this already, but for season three, we’re going through having each guest share some words of wisdom by completing an open ended statement that I give them. So I’m going to start the statement and then I’m going to have.

You repeat that, what I say, and then complete it with your own thoughts. So I know that was kind of convoluted the way that I just presented it, but, but I think, I think we got it there. Yeah, we got it. So I that I’m going to give you. And, um, and if you need me to repeat it, then I can, I can do that. So the first one is the most surprising thing I’ve discovered about using music therapy with neurodivergent, and let me try that again.

My mouth isn’t working today. The most surprising thing I’ve discovered about using music therapy with neurodivergent children is.

The most surprising thing I’ve discovered about using music therapy with neurodivergent children is how different kids are and how one piece of music can do one thing to one kid, and it can totally change in another kid.

So just knowing that. Musical preferences like we’re talking about just are so important.

Okay. Next one for parents feeling overwhelmed by their child’s challenges. I want to emphasize that.

For parents feeling overwhelmed by their child’s challenges. I want to emphasize that there is help out there. You can reach out to music therapists.

You can reach out to parent educators, occupational therapists, whoever you need and to really see what your child is into and focus on that connection piece before correcting your child. Really focus on connecting with them, engaging in what they like, and really building that bond. And I think you’ll see a difference.

Excellent. Excellent. Very nice. Okay. Third one, one key skill every parent of a neurodivergent child can develop through music is?

One key skill every parent of a neurodivergent child can develop through music is, um, learning coping skills. You can, you know, like we talked about, you can use coping skills using music and you don’t have to be a musician to do them.

Right. When a parent tells me their child is struggling with blank, I always recommend trying blank.

When a parent tells me their child is struggling with going out in public, I always recommend trying to look at the sensory needs of their child. Like, are they sensory seeking? Are they sensory avoidant? Do they need, you know, headphones? Do they need sunglasses? That’s just one thing that you can try is really looking at the sensory preferences of your child.

Great. Great. All right. And the final one, the future of music therapy for neurodivergent children holds great promise because.

The future of music therapy for neurodivergent children holds great promise because it’s growing. More people are hearing about it. More people are engaging in it. There’s more research being done. I am just super excited about it.

Those are all great advice. I, I, I’m, I’m glad I, I gave you all, all five of them instead. Instead of just three of them. .

Oh, yeah. Well, thank you, .

Well, well done. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you.

Can you tell us about any projects that you’re working on and how our listeners can connect with you?

Yeah, I am. Starting parent coaching. And so we’re starting parent courses where it won’t be all music therapy. It won’t be all music, you know, strategies, but there will definitely be music strategies mixed in there. So if you’re a parent who’s new to the neurodivergent world, if you’re a parent, who’s.

Maybe their child doesn’t have a diagnosis yet, but you’re just thinking that your child is neurodivergent or you just got a diagnosis. Um, we really delve into what is involved in the neurodivergent world. How can you help your child, you know, focus on positive parenting strategies and music strategies when appropriate.

And if you want to connect with me, I have a podcast called every brain is different where we celebrate neurodiversity and we give parenting strategies to parents. Um, I’m on Instagram at Boise music therapy. I’m on Tik TOK. Every brain is different. Um, yeah, just connect with me there.

All right. We’ll, we’ll include all those links in the, in the show notes.

And if you’re listening on audio, look at the webpage that’s that’s linked there, because I’m having trouble getting the show notes posted on the audio platforms, but it is on the webpage that that is showing up on that. So you’ll, you’ll be able to find it. Well, Samantha, thank you for sharing about your work today.

I’ve learned a lot and I know our listeners have as well.

Well, thank you for having me on. It was really awesome.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *