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Music therapy helps Willow River students with autism

Kane Seidling plays the keyboard with music therapy teacher Anna Brudzinski during a music therapy class on Tuesday, March 20 at Willow River Elementary. The therapy is designed to help students on the autism spectrum. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia

Students are welcomed with a song to Anna Brudzinski's music classes at Willow River Elementary. The weekly classes are small, sometimes five or six kids, and sometimes just one-on-one.

Brudzinski is a music therapy teacher who works with students with autism across the Twin Cities and here at Willow River.

"It's been really rewarding," Brudzinski said.

Her classes are designed to get the kids, who often do not participate in regular music classes, engaged, said autism coordinator Tracy Metz.

"Engaging with music has been the biggest benefit," Metz said.

The smaller group setting often works better for students than larger music classes, and has helped some of the students transition into spending time in those classes with their peers.

The therapy classes use music to help the students meet individual physical, emotional and social goals.

"Essentially music is just the vehicle that we use," Brudzinski said.

During these 30-minutes classes, the students take turns on instruments, listen to music, write songs and more. The purpose is to get the students to feel and experience the music.

"Becoming interested in it in a variety of ways," Metz said.

The students have a variety of verbal communication levels, with some having their only communication come through music, Metz said.

"Music allows them a different vehicle for interaction," Brudzinski said.

The therapy is designed for students on varying parts of the spectrum, from nonverbal to high-functioning.

"They've all had a benefit of some sort," Metz said.

The therapy program started 10 years ago when the idea of music therapy was an up and coming thing. Metz said the school saw the impact it had on its students, and wanted to continue it.

"We've seen huge benefits over the years with the kids," Metz said.

The first year of therapy was funded by a grant. Now it relies on money raised by the annual Celebrate Difference 5K and Autism Awareness event.

"We knew we wanted to continue it long-term and that's when the event was born," Metz said.

In addition to the run the event also features a silent auction, carnival and bake sale.

"The event is really about educating about autism," Metz said.

This year's event is on Saturday, April 28, with a registration deadline of Friday, April 6. It is dedicated to Jim Peterson, a big supporter of the program.

For more information on the Celebrate Difference event, contact Tracy Metz at

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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