Program for Musicians with Autism Highlighted at International Conference

President Simon introduces “Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life” to dozens of researchers.

Piano faculty members Derek Polischuk and Deborah Moriarty perform for a dinner event at the DOCTRID conference in Limrick, Ireland, introduced by MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.
Ian Gray, former vice president for research and graduate studies, discusses “Celebrating The Spectrum” with Deborah Moriarty, graduate student Ling Lo, and Derek Polischuk.
Deborah Moriarty, Derek Polischuk, and Ling Lo discuss research implications of the “Celebrating The Spectrum” with a DOCTRID session facilitator.
Derek Polischuk and Deborah Moriarty pause for a photo with MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.
Ling Lo presents a poster session about “Celebrating The Spectrum” at the DOCTRID conference.


Founders of MSU’s new summer program for music students on the autism spectrum shared experiences from the 2016 inaugural year at an international conference in Ireland focused on social inclusion and quality of life for people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

Associate Professor of Piano and Director of Piano Pedagogy Derek Polischuk, Professor of Piano and Chair of the Piano Area Deborah Moriarty, and Doctoral Student of Piano Performance Ling Lo presented on “Celebrating the Spectrum: A Festival of Music and Life” at an opening dinner hosted by MSU at the fifth Daughters of Charity Technology and Research into Disability Institute (DOCTRID) conference at the University of Limerick in late April 2017. The group from the College of Music showcased the summer program developed with the MSU’s initiative for Research in Autism, Intellectual, and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities that provides a collegiate experience for musicians age 12-22 with autism. Moriarty and Polischuk also demonstrated a piano instructional method used to teach students with special needs.

“DOCTRID is a leader in the direct application of research to the lives of individuals with autism, as well as the concept of expanding human dignity for individuals with disabilities,” says Polischuk. “Their aim is not to necessarily find a cause or solution, but to improve the lives of people on the autism spectrum. That’s something we feel very passionate about, too, and is reflective of the diversity and inclusion built into our new program and all we do at the College of Music.”

The bi-annual conference in Ireland is an outgrowth of joint programs between MSU and DOCTRID that involve researching how assistive technology and other support can increase communication, social inclusion, education and employment for people with intellectual disabilities or autism. President Lou Anna K. Simon attended the conference and introduced the group’s presentation.

“We're extremely proud of the College of Music for collaborating with top researchers in the MSU RAIND program and within the international community at DOCTRID to develop an excellent and inclusive program for young musicians with autism and other intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities,” says President Simon. “By working together and sharing our discoveries, we can advance opportunities for all and be a driving force for research and change.”

Ian Gray, former vice president for research and graduate studies, serves with MSU Professor of Rehabilitation Counseling Michael Leahy as a liaison between MSU and DOCTRID. Leahy serves as co-director of RAIND along with Nigel Paneth, MSU professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and pediatrics. Gray emphasized that the conference is all about social inclusion, lifestyle and connected health, and assistive technologies, and provides a forum for researchers worldwide to share ideas that celebrate abilities and change lives.

“It's wonderful that Deborah and Derek came to the conference and shared some of the outcomes they identified that can make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities,” says Gray. “We're delighted MSU attended and can glean information they can adapt as they plan future activities for the Spectrum festival."

Moriarty says participating in the conference further validates MSU’s profile as a university that is leading the way with initiatives that impact the lives of people and families who experience autism. She believes the weeklong “Celebrating the Spectrum” program is the first-of-its-kind in the U.S., and that it holds continued promise as a venue to acquaint music students with autism to the demands and excitement of collegiate life.

“Going to the conference allowed us to show that the College of Music is more than a place where students perform and practice and study music. We’re also involved in the science and research side of MSU,” says Moriarty. “When you listen to these children and young adults play and see what they can do, it humanizes the study of autism, and shows that music can open the door to science.”

Lo was among the five graduate students who worked one-on-one with students during the weeklong program last summer, and witnessed the power of music as a means for human communication and interaction. She says that attending the conference further inspires her to explore how music can unlock potential and enhance lives of people with autism.

“It is amazing to see how the beauty of music can guide humanity, and lead people to find ways to truly express themselves,” Lo says. “I was amazed at the progress students made during the time they attended the Spectrum festival at MSU.”

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