Community Music Activity Access for the Autism Service (Northgate Hospital)

Community Music Activity Access for the Autism Service

Cindy-Jo Morison
Principal Music Therapist
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered – AS07985

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
Arts Therapies Team (Psychological Services)
Day Unit
Northgate Hospital
NE61 3BP

Description of the arts activity

The initial taster session was conducted at the Sage (Gateshead) by a community musician to help service users become familiar with the building and get used to the hustle and bustle of the concourse area before joining a regular weekly group.  It included group music making and food/beverages in the café. The next four sessions saw our service users join a singing group led by three community musicians which lasted 90 minutes and involved voice and body warm ups and the singing of familiar pop and rock songs.  Every group member was treated equally and always given the opportunity to have a voice when choosing the next song. The final four sessions saw our service user’s move across to Gateshead Old Town Hall for a gamelan/drumming group which offered adults with a learning disability the chance to come together and create a story through the use of sounds.  Gamelan is a set of traditional Javanese percussion instruments including metallophones and gongs. A hand drum can also be played to register the beat.  The story created was about the ‘Gamelanavan’ sent on a journey around the world and musically described various countries and encounters along the way.

Details of the project participants

Four adult male service users from the Autism Service were recruited for the project through multi-disciplinary team discussions.  Sometimes service users were unable to attend because of poor presentation on the day, risk assessment or prior commitments.

Project management

Sessions were facilitated by community musicians supported by the Music Therapist who was in charge of the project delivery  Service users were offered additional support from escorting staff.

There was no cost to participants and consent was sought via the multi-disciplinary team.

Evaluation methods and findings

The evaluation process at the end of each session was primarily observational and focused upon each service user’s individual responses to the visits and musical activities. These forms were completed by members of the staff team supporting the service users from Northgate Hospital.  

Staff could select from the following session descriptors and rate their observations of each service user:

  • Communication : Use of the person’s primary method of communicating: i.e. verbal language, non verbal signs/gestures and vocalisations
  • Social skills : Use of Listening, turn taking, eye contact, appropriate body language, tone of voice.
  • Motivation/participation : Motivation to engage actively throughout the session.

For all individuals involved there was an improvement in communication, social skills, motivation and participation.


One service user attended all nine sessions and for him the greatest progress was observed.  On arriving at Sage (Gateshead) the first week this service user appeared a little apprehensive requiring assurances from staff throughout the visit.  During the group music making he spoke very little and kept his head bowed.  On arrival at the second session this gentlemen began to relax and joined in with the songs he knew whilst holding his head up and taking in his surroundings including other members of the group.  By session six (Gamelan) this service user was chatting through tea before the session and responding to questions from the group leaders and following instructions.  This gentlemen left all the sessions with a smile on his face but by the last session his grin really was from ear to ear.

Another service user who was discharged has asked his named nurse to find something like it in the city he will be moving to.

A member of staff asked if she could “bottle a patients presentation” during a session she attended and “take it back to the ward”.  She was astonished as to how well this service user was able to focus and listen rather that wanting to constantly talk about themselves and be centre of attention, which was the service users usual presentation on the ward.

Service User Feedback:

With support, all four service users were asked to complete feedback forms following the four Choir group sessions and the four Gamelan group sessions.

All four said they enjoyed the groups, that it helped increase their confidence and also offered some insight into understanding each others thoughts and feelings.  They all said they would like to try both groups again.


For everyone involved it was a positive and enjoyable experience which would not have been possible without the generous funding from the Chrysalis Fund.  Following completion of the project, two service users have continued to access these sessions.

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England