PALS Autism Society

Vancouver , BC


Contact Us To Support This Program

Music therapy is the best time of the day, because I’m good at singing”


Client at PALS Autism

Prior to COVID-19, PALS offered three 60 minute group sessions of 6-8 students each. These groups focus on social interaction – through experiencing leader/follower activities, greeting/farewell rituals, active group participation and flexibility. Self expression – Song/instrument choice, expressive dance/movement and song writing. Emotional domain – Self-awareness/self-concept, self-confidence, self-regulation and impulse control. During groups they work on structured music activities (SMA) and improvisational-based music experiences (IME). SMA’s include; “Music Detective Game” students ask yes/no describing questions to determine which instrument is being thought of. “Name that sound” sound discrimination game where students identify instruments based on their sound, “Rhythm/beat matching” students match instruments to the beat of the music as tempo changes. IME – Un-structured experience to encourage self-expression through movement, sound, and free play. One-to-one 90 mins each week tailored to the students’ needs. Providing support for those who are working towards the skills they need to participate in a group music therapy setting.


PALS Autism Society Adult Program serves young male and female adults on the autism spectrum, between ages 19-33. The program is a skill development program that focuses on developing individual goals and abilities in an environment that promotes independence, learning and functional communication. The music therapy program at Pals continues to be an integral part of the program and a highlight of the students’ week.

How does Music Therapy uniquely address the needs of the clients at PALS?

The students at PALS are faced with intellectual and social limitations, which make communicating an everyday challenge. Despite the differences in ability levels, music therapy offers opportunities where every student is equal and can communicate on the same level. Music therapy at PALS provides space for the students to practice self-regulation, to work on their social skills and communicate with the world around them. The best part about music therapy at PALS is that the students love it! They have fun while simultaneously working hard.

A non-verbal student can play an instrument and communicate through creating sounds, playing with dynamics and exploring their own voices. Music Therapy challenges verbal students with their communication and critical thinking skills, where they ask questions to identify different instruments, eg. “Is the instrument made of wood?” Music therapy also supports the students when they need help regulating themselves – depending on the individual; this is done solely by the motivating properties that music demands from them. Despite the varying needs of the students at PALS, music therapy’s inclusive and flexible application offers an alternative, creative outlet for expression.

How has COVID-19 impacted the program at PALS?

“The onset of COVID 19 has posed great challenges for service providers across the province. At PALS, we were fortunate in having a creative, determined and hard-working team that allowed us to pivot from a completely onsite/in-person program to an on-line platform within 7-10 days. Thankfully we were able to continue music therapy with almost no interruption because of the grant we received last year from Music Heals.”

Your support will help PALS in the following ways: increase capacity, provide more 1:1 sessions and have a more significant presence online. It will provide consistent therapy in support of students of both the online and onsite programs – the program is trying to balance the needs of both groups at the moment. The music therapy sessions are, and continue to be, the most highly preferred and well attended of the online program options– students who would typically not be able to participate in classes longer than 30 minutes, are reluctant to leave Tianna’s sessions – that speaks volumes. Without your support to support they wouldn’t be able to provide what these young people so desperately need – a joyful voice and a way of communicating to the outside world in language we all understand, regardless of who we are.

Unfortunately, therapies, music therapy among them, are not financially supported by CLBC (the funding arm of the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction). PALS is trying to balance the needs of the kids who are coming in to the program with the needs of those who are staying home and doing online programming because of health and safety concerns (elderly parents, chronic illness at home, inability to wear masks or socially distance, unable to travel on handi-dart because of these issues,etc.) Unfortunately one of the unintended consequences is that the students who cannot yet return to the program, have less social interaction than the onsite students. But another two hour session or more 1:1 sessions would allow them to support both programs and provide the avenue that gives their students a voice especially in such difficult times.

*Steve (picture above) is a 25-year-old young man on the spectrum who is creative, caring, and loves to have a good time with his friends. Steve loves music, making animal sounds, and drawing. Steve’s autism presents him difficulty with social skills and regulating his emotions. Music therapy is a highlight in Steve’s week – he expresses excitement and anticipation before each session asking “What are we going to do in music today Tianna?” with hopes that she will say “Hakuna Matata! Which is his favorite song to perform in front of his peers.

Music brings Steve so much joy, and it helps him stay regulated, communicate, and express himself. During music therapy, Steve is able to engage with his peers in a creative space that supports him and highlights his strengths. Steve has been working on patience while waiting his turn and keeping the volume of his voice in the “green zone”. Music proves to be a huge motivator – as he is able to wait quietly for his turn. When Steve’s showing that he is calm and ready, his name will be called to choose a song. We would all be surprised if he didn’t say “Hakuna Matata!” While Tianna takes on Simba and Timon’s parts, Steve gets right into character playing the part of Pumba with enthusiasm and creativity. Steve sings Pumba’s part word for word using creative dynamics, actions and appropriate facial expressions. Steve always gets a kick out of the ending when Timon says “Pumba, not in front of the kids!” and then Steve intentionally waits… and waits… and then out of no where he says… “SARRY!” it makes everyone laugh every time! When Steve is participating in music therapy, everyone gets to see the real Steve. The music therapy sessions provide Steve with structure, predictability and motivation to help him regulate and practice his social skills.

*Name has been changed to protect client 

Tianna Plimmer

My name is Tianna Plimmer. I completed the Bachelor of Music Therapy Degree program at Capilano University in 2015. Within my clinical practicum, I gained experience working with seniors, special needs children, and with young adults with mental health disorders. During my internship I worked with older adults living in long-term care where I gained experience working on specialized dementia care units. Throughout my career, I have been working with adults’ ages 19+ in long-term care with acquired brain injuries and other mental health issues. I have also been working with older adults living in long-term care, and with special needs children and adults living with autism and other developmental disorders.

Michaela Wallis

My name is Michaela Wallis. I completed the Bachelor of Music Therapy Degree program at Capilano University in 2015. Throughout my studies, I was fortunate to have clinical practicum experiences with seniors, special needs children and individuals living with mental health issues. I completed my internship as BC Children’s Hospital where I was able to work as a member of a multidisciplinary team with medically fragile children and adolescents. Since receiving my accreditation, I have run a small private practice, providing contracted services to agencies as well as individual, home-based therapy services to children and young adults with high medical needs, Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disabilities.

You can help us reach more Canadians with the healing power of music. We invite you to give the gift of music to provide hope, strength, relief and encouragement to Canadians in need.

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