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After using music therapy to help autistic children last spring as a learning support aide at the Willow Dean School in London during a study abroad program, Adrienne Nagy ’05 (South Plainfield, N.J.) was compelled to further investigate the treatment.

“In England, while I was working with students who were autistic and hearing impaired, there was this one autistic boy who, when I would sing a song to him, would hum it back to me,” she says. “It was then I became interested in how music therapy aids in communication for autistic children.”

Nagy, a psychology major and music minor, used an independent study course last semester to put together a portfolio of resources detailing several aspects of music therapy. She included research that supports the unique form of therapy, where prospective therapists could learn the trade, different techniques on how to apply the therapy, interviews with therapists and patients, and inspirational stories.

Nina Gilbert, director of choral activities and Nagy’s independent study adviser, says the project started as a serendipitous accident when her music class was cancelled.

“[Adrienne] was concerned because she needed the music course to minor in music,” she says. “She asked if she could take the class as an independent study and I told her if she wanted to do an independent study, she didn’t have to do the course she signed up for, she could design something that reflected her own interests.”

Nagy decided to create a portfolio as a reference tool for teachers. She also used the portfolio to explain her thoughts on music therapy and its benefits for children with autism spectrum disorder.

“I think music therapy, coupled with other forms of therapy, can have a positive effect on children with autism,” she says. “Some papers have shown their communicative abilities have increased with music therapy. There’s nothing menacing that could come out of bringing music into the life of a child, even if it’s only giving them a way to express themselves that they not had before.”

Even though it will not directly impact her future career as a high school guidance counselor, Nagy says the independent study provided insight into a field she would have otherwise overlooked.

“It gave me the opportunity to research something I couldn’t have done in a regular class,” she explains. “I was able to go out and observe a professional in the field, talk to parents of autistic children, and talk to autistic children themselves — it made [the project] come alive for me.”

Nagy believes that the knowledge she gained from studying children with special needs and their instructional styles will transfer to guiding high school students.

“Many people interested in psychology are interested in the clinical form, but for me it’s always been in the educational sense,” she says. “Working with children with special needs is a large part of education now more than ever. Having this portfolio in my background and the knowledge I’ve gained, I will try to instill those same values when I’m working with other counselors or children.”

Nagy is a head peer counselor and a member of the Psychology Club, the Delta Gamma sorority, and the dance team. She also volunteers with the Adopt-a-Grandparent program coordinated by Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center. She is a graduate of South Plainfield High School.

Independent study courses are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at last year’s annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News