“It’s Not What’s Done, But Why It’s Done”

Music Therapists’ Understanding of Normalisation, Maximisation and the Neurodiversity Movement


  • Beth Pickard University of South Wales http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2773-148X
  • Grace Thompson University of Melbourne
  • Maren Metell Nordoff Robbins/Goldsmiths, University of London and University of Bergen/Norce
  • Efrat Roginsky University of Haifa
  • Cochavit Elefant University of Haifa




music therapy, autism, neurodiversity, ableism


This position paper offers our personal reflections as five music therapists from varying social and international contexts attempting to understand and engage with the theory, politics and implications of the Neurodiversity Movement. We begin by positioning our views on the importance of the therapist’s intentionality when working with individuals for whom this social, cultural and political movement may represent central beliefs and values. The evolution of the Neurodiversity Movement is discussed, growing from the social model of disability and Disability Rights Movements to present a challenge to the dominant, medicalised model of disability. Throughout the paper, we invite critical debate around the role, position and attitude of the music therapist when working with neurodivergent participants, taking the powerful words of Autistic author and activist, Penni Winter, as our provocation. Finally, we offer our interpretation of key concepts and dimensions of this discourse, before sharing examples of how we might apply these understandings to tangible tenets of music therapy practice in different contexts through a series of brief composite case stories. Through critical reflection and discussion, we attempt to draw together the threads of these diverse narratives to challenge a normocentric position, and conclude by posing further questions for the reader and the wider music therapy profession.

Author Biographies

Beth Pickard, University of South Wales

Beth Pickard is a music therapist, senior lecturer and PhD student at the University of South Wales. Beth’s research, shaped by experience in mainstream, special and higher education, is informed by Critical Disability Studies and seeks to challenge deficit-based discourse around disability in policy and practice. Beth is an inclusive music facilitator, sign-supported communicator and passionate advocate for social justice. Beth’s commitment to increasing accessibility and inclusive practice in higher education was recognised through a National Teaching Fellowship in 2018. Beth is part of the Advisory Editorial Board for international music therapy journal, Approaches, and is trustee of Birmingham based charity Melody which advocates for musical opportunities for people with learning disabilities.


Grace Thompson, University of Melbourne

Dr Grace Thompson is a music therapist and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Grace has worked with children, young people and families for over 20 years within the early childhood intervention and special education sector. In her clinical work, Grace developed a collaborative approach to music therapy practice with families guided by ecological theories and family-centred philosophy. Her research continues to explore the ways music therapists can foster relationships and social connection through participating in engaging and accessible music making. Grace is past president of the Australian Music Therapy Association and along with Stine Lindahl Jacobsen is co-editor of the book “Music Therapy with Families: Therapeutic Approaches and Theoretical Perspectives”. She is currently an Associate Editor with the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy.


Maren Metell, Nordoff Robbins/Goldsmiths, University of London and University of Bergen/Norce

Maren is a PhD student at Nordoff Robbins/Goldsmiths, University of London and works currently at GAMUT, University of Bergen/NORCE. She is passionate about working together with children and families and has an interest in disability studies, emancipatory research and community music therapy. In her PhD, she explores together with families how, when and for whom musicking becomes accessible.


Efrat Roginsky, University of Haifa

Dr Efrat Roginsky is a classical guitarist, music therapist and a lecturer at the University of Haifa, Israel. Efrat's clinical work takes place at the Israeli Public Education Service, where she also supervises and coordinates a regional arts-therapies sector. Efrat is interested in socio-ecological perspectives and social justice, applied through her clinical practice and public service. Her management policy encourages equality and participation through the arts, group-work, and community collaboration. Efrat's research explores the musical worlds of individuals with cerebral palsies and their family members, as an act of acknowledging their voice and potential contributions to society.


Cochavit Elefant, University of Haifa

Cochavit Elefant, PhD, is a Music therapist and head of the graduate music therapy program at the University of Haifa, Israel. Previously, she worked as Associate Professor in Music Therapy at the University of Bergen, Norway. She has many years of experience working and researching in music therapy with the intention of giving voice to the vulnerable unheard voices in the society. Her research areas have been with girls with Rett syndrome, autistic people and within Community Music therapy. She has published several articles and co-authored a book titled ‘Where Music Helps: Community Music Therapy in Action and Reflection’ with Stige, Ansdell and Pavlicevic. She also co-edited a Music Therapy research book in Hebrew with Dorit Amir.




How to Cite

Pickard, B., Thompson, G., Metell, M., Roginsky, E., & Elefant, C. (2020). “It’s Not What’s Done, But Why It’s Done”: Music Therapists’ Understanding of Normalisation, Maximisation and the Neurodiversity Movement. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 20(3), 19. https://doi.org/10.15845/voices.v20i3.3110



Position Papers