It’s Child’s Play: Imaginative Play and Improvisation with Neurodivergent Individuals

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Manges, Veronica
Master of Arts in Music Therapy
Little to no research had been completed on ascertaining the clinical implications of the combined use of imaginative play and clinical improvisation with neurodivergent children in the individual music therapy setting prior to the advent of this exploration. This researcher utilized a retrospective case series to investigate said implications through an interpretivist lens, which were then reviewed through thematic analysis. Two neurodivergent children were chosen from a purposive sampling framework wherein each highlighted a different aspect of the approach. An imaginative play and improvisation experience was chosen from the pre-recorded videos of each child and an observation form was completed by the researcher, who was also the participants’ therapist. The observation form and session evaluation from the day of each participant’s recording were coded for themes; the thematic material was explored in a narrative discussion. The results indicate that the combined use of imaginative play and improvisation with neurodivergent individuals in the individual therapy setting is a clinically relevant option for music therapists to employ in their work. Themes related to subject matter, the therapeutic purposes of the pretend scenarios, matching the music to the imaginative choices, role exploration, and the act of integrating the modality of play into the music therapy space signify that almost all areas of the participants’ needs and interests were addressed and progressed by combining the two creative modalities. “Music is creative play with sound; it arises when sound meets human imagination” (Brandt, Gebrian, & Slevc, 2012, p. 3).