Ep. 92: April is Autism Acceptance Month. One expert’s story and practical resources for music teachers of those with autism; with author Dr. Alice Hammel

Photo by Misha Voguel from Pexels

April 27, 2021

Dr. Alice Hammel, co-author of Teaching Music to Students with Autism, shares the story of her journey to a vocation in music education for students with learning differences. We discuss the content of the books she’s authored, what music has to offer those with autism, and practical tips for parents and educators (both in classroom and private lesson settings).

Dr. Alice Hammel


My guest today is Dr. Alice Hammel, the co-author of  Teaching Music to Students with Autism, as well as three other books related to teaching music to students with special needs and learning differences. Dr. Hammel is a faculty member of James Madison University. She is in high demand as a clinician and teacher throughout the US; and is widely published in the areas of music education, teacher education, and students with special needs. Dr. Hammel holds several leadership positions in the field of music education and is the recipient of multiple awards honoring her work in the field.  


  • Alice has developed so much expertise in the field of music education for those with autism or other learning differences. Some of her passion for this field began in what was a pretty unconventional childhood. She tells us a little bit about her early childhood years, and how and when she became drawn to the field that she’s in.
  • Alice is co-author of four books:
    1. Teaching Music to Students with Autism (2nd ed. released in 2020): A comprehensive practical guide for music educators who work with students with autism. Authors and veteran music educators Alice M. Hammel and Ryan M. Hourigan offer an approach centered in inclusion designed for music educators, music teacher educators, and all those who have an interest in the education of students with autism. In this second edition, the authors offer fully up-to-date information on the diagnosis of autism, advocating for students and music programs, and creating and maintaining a team-approach when working with colleagues. A significant portion of the book is focused on understanding the communication, cognition, behavior, sensory, and socialization challenges inherent in students with autism and ways to structure classroom experiences and learning opportunities for all students.
    2. Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-free Approach (2nd released 2017): This superb resource is a practical guide and reference manual addressing special needs in the broadest possible sense to equip teachers with proven, research-based curricular strategies that are grounded in both best practices and current special-education law. Chapters address the full range of topics and issues music educators face, including parental involvement, student anxiety, field trips and performances, and assessment strategies.
    3. Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Practical Resource (2011): This book equips music educators with understanding necessary to implement teaching ideas into the domains of cognition, communication, behavior, emotions, and physical and sensory needs. Classroom-tested lesson plans include procedure outlines and assessments as well as guides for adaptation, accommodation, and modification needed for successful implementation in K-12 classrooms and provides teachers with enough practical ideas to allow them to begin to create and adapt their own lesson plans for use with students of differing needs and abilities.
    4. Winding It Back: Teaching to Individual Differences in Music Classroom and Ensemble Settings (2016): The framework of this text is centered on three core principles: honoring the individual learning needs of all students; providing multiple access points and learning levels; and providing adequate learning conditions for all students within the music classroom. Topics include early childhood music, creative movement, older beginners, rhythm, and tonal development as well as secondary choral and instrumental music. All chapters focus on meeting the needs of all students and all learning levels within the music classroom.
  • We discuss what music education has to offer those with autism.
  • Alice shares tips for music educators working with those with autism (both in a classroom setting and private lesson setting).
  • Alice shares tips for parents of children on the spectrum re: incorporating music into their life.

Connect/Other Resources

In-Episode Promo

Thank you to our sponsor, Sheet Music Direct. Sheet Music Direct is the world’s premier destination for digital sheet music, powered by sheet music publisher Hal Leonard. I have used Sheet Music Direct for probably 10 years, and it has saved me countless hours of driving to music stores and sifting through bins of sheet music and books to find the right song (and hoping the perfect song isn’t out of stock). Sheet Music Direct’s library has more than 1 million sheet music arrangements that you can view – and listen to – right from your device for convenient online shopping and immediate downloads of educational, classical, and pop scores that represent just about any genre and holiday. Prices start at $0.99 and you can both print your purchases instantly and access them on any device, which has really come in handy for our family when we’re out of state visiting Grandma & Grandpa, and they want to hear my kids play the piano! Access the latest hits and yesterday’s classics at sheetmusicdirect.com.


Alice says: I want to highlight a song written by one of my daughters, Hollie Hammel. She is a singer/songwriter, everything vocalist, and musician supreme in Nashville. This is a song she wrote last year during the worst of the pandemic. It is called “Better Days.” I love the hopeful, yet authentic lyrics and the surprising rhythmic motives. Hollie writes in a personal way and is not afraid to show all sides of humanity. Plus, she is one of my two favorite musicians in the world (the other is my daughter, Hannah, who is principal flute with the Detroit Symphony). Hollie’s music can be found on Spotify – Hollie Hammel. This song is “Better Days.”

Closing Words

Thank you so much, Hollie, for sharing that song of hope and optimism with us today!

I did look up the book that Alice recommended to us, by Sheila Scott. It is called, Music Education for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Resource for Teachers. There is a link in the show notes, along with lots of other information from today, including a link to Hollie’s music. I also want to point out that Alice referenced a “Ryan” during our conversation, and that is Ryan Hourigan, the co-author of her books.  Thanks to Alice, and also Ryan and Hollie, for their contributions to this Autism Acceptance Month episode.

I would love to hear from you! Connect with me on my website, email, or social media – I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thank you so much for joining me today, and for sharing the show with your friends and family. 


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