The theory of AIM in disability music programs (Music Interaction)

The AIM theory of working with Neuro-Diversity

This Way In To Music’s AIM Theory as explained by Alex Smith for his Music Interaction program for neuro-diverse families living with special needs children.

Attention, Invitational Inspiration, and Mimesis through Music

The This Way In To Music (TWIM) program success is based on the overriding concept of AIM (attention, invitation and mimesis).

The program aims for parent and teachers to learn how to do the following with children with neurodiverity or social shyness.

INVITE ATTENTION (invitational participation, curiosity) in a new social situation (versus forcing a child to engage or participate). The invitation to engage, socially, using music interaction, is assisted by an innate cross-cultural INTEREST in patterns (rhythm and sound) and the nature of humans to want to IMITATE what they see or hear, or to INITIATE (INNOVATE) something similar but different.

In fact, some of the parents of the children we’ve worked with during our first year’s episodes filming (over 3 years) were surprised to discover just how INTERESTED – and interactively ENGAGED – their children were, in terms of making SOUNDS or exploring the capacity of musical instruments and everyday objects (pots and pans).

These neuro-diverse children were often withdrawn or uninterested in engagement, generally speaking. This led to isolation and a lack of belonging or ‘social fun’ as they ‘didn’t fit in’ to neuro-typical games or social structures. However, music interaction through TWIM ‘brought them out of their shells’ and led to stronger family bonds, as well as lighthearted FUN, that assisted with these children feeling more comfortable in new social situations (cognitive transfer opportunities).

So one of the largest benefits of using AIM is increased socialisation and family FUN time – a reprieve from the normal stressors of living with an ability difference such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy (CP), Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), Motor Neuron Disease (MND), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and other conditions impacting communication and social comfort.

Music interaction:  A (Attracts Attention) – I (Inspires Connection and Communication and Innovation) – M (Leads to Mimesis or imitation and fun) to reduce social isolation and lead to positive social engagements – in the family environment at first, but potentially transferrable to other situations such as schools or care centres.

  • Parents can implement and improvise, using these examples as a basis, using home made instruments or inexpensive store bought versions of instruments – but pots and pans work equally well.
  • We’re essentially talking about using small, inexpensive drums or bongos, pots and pans and wooden spoons for percussion, tambourines, hand shakers, ukuleles and/or guitars – basically anything that can be used to generate a sound and attract attention.
  • But it’s performed in an entirely invitational manner that encourages gentle, comfortable social interaction and engagement between family members or classroom participants – not demanded attention and not forced attention, but using the power of curiosity, mimesis and sound to connect and communicate in a playful, task-less yet skills-building capacity.

Music Interaction and Music Socialisation: Five (5) Key Objectives

  1. INTEREST (Arousal of interest and curiosity). Having an ability difference or “neuro-diverse condition” often leads to children becoming withdrawn, shy or fearful of engaging with others. They tend to become more inwardly focused or preoccupied with solo tasks or learnings. But MUSIC themed, taskless play time helps increase a child’s willingness to engage and connectsocially, with others. This is encouraged through invitational participation (never forced) in music-themed games, reducing social withdrawal and self-isolation tendencies.
  2. ATTENTION (Sustained attention and connection). Staying interested in the social activity, versus ‘tuning out’ or wanting to go back to an isolated task or hobby.  This sustained attention provides a greater chance of improving social skills and communication skills, e.g., when the child remains actively engaged and interested in the music-themed interactions between family members including siblings (or adapted to teaching environments for classrooms engagement with peers, neuro-typical or neuro-diverse).
  3. MIMESIS – Developing and having fun with natural tendencies to imitate (mimic) as well as to lead or INNOVATE through imitation games that evoke sounds or sound-related rhythms, via the use of voices, names, song waves, objects and/or musical instruments.
  4. COMFORT – Building a sense of comfort in controlled settings helps enhance connection and communication (verbal or pre-verbal); with potential for cognitive transfer in new situations. (One challenge for children with neuro-diversity is adapting to new situations or changed environments. By making this type of engagement FUN and INTERESTING, and POSITIVE, the child may begin to feel more comfortable when other things change in their environment). E.g., cognitive transfer.
  5. COMMUNICATION and CONNECTION – Generating mimesis and recognising and encouraging self-regulatory behaviours; to increase a child’s comfort with changes and help minimise situations of overwhelm which lead to ‘meltdowns’.

Who developed the session strategies underpinning the Music Interaction Program for children with Autism, Asperger’s, Cerebral Palsy or Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)?

  • The program was created by musician and lead singer of Moving Pictures, Alex Smith, based on years of experience in the special needs education system and having studies numerous methods (as well as being the parent of a child with special needs) 
  • A parent of a child with Asperger’s (now a young adult), Alex was frustrated with his early dealings with the educational system for children with Autism and other special needs; this fed his desire to be of service to other parents of children with special needs
  • Inspired by what he saw as a MAJOR GAP in educational strategies for children with neuro-developmental differences (neuro-diversity), he spent 20 years working in Special Needs Education and Music Interaction in the UK (along with small training sessions in Australia while on Tour) to perfect his methods – which rely on parents ENGAGING – at floor level – and having FUN experimenting with different forms of music-themed engagement games
  • Together with Director/Writer and Health Researcher, Connie May MHST, Special Needs Education Advisor Ric Davidson, and Producer/Co-Director and Sound Expert Ron Brown, the program is being brought to families across the world through digital means, beginning in 2019.

History of Singer Alex Smith’s program for special needs music interaction:

  • As the lead singer of the Australian band, Moving Pictures, Alex Smith is best known for the hit songs “What About Me” and “Never” (heard on the Footloose soundtrack).
  • Most recently, Alex toured with other famous musicians in the Red Hot Summer Tour in Australia, and he’s just released a new solo Album called THE THREAD.


  • Alex Smith became involved in Special Needs Education and Music Interaction as a Trainer/Educator and
  • Parent of a child on the Autistic Spectrum
  • He spent decades reading and researching Autism Spectrum Disorders (Neuro-Diversity) and Asperger’s conditions and educational options
  • His primary goal was to empower his son, and reduce the sense of isolation they felt being a special needs family
  • In creating his music interaction program, Alex Smith drew on numerous resources and extensive experience (including experimentation, trial and error) to compile a proprietary system of working with children with Special Needs, using MUSIC as an engagement and social-learning tool
  • Together with Connie May MHST (a researcher/writer with an evidence-based approach), they filmed numerous TWIM sessions over 3 to 4 years (4 families, including 5 children of varying types of neuro-diversity), all in home-based settings, to show what TYPES of music interaction were most effective at having a positive effect
  • His motto, however, is to EXPERIMENT – that no one size fits all, and the beauty of TWIM is that it is fully-adaptable for the communication levels and comfort levels of the children engaging with their parents and siblings (or grandparents, teachers or carers) and suitable for a variety of physical, emotional, social and cognitive differences (neuro-diverse conditions).

We are currently seeking SEED funding for our first year’s post-production costs. If you can help through sponsorship (Corporate) or donations, please contact Connie May MHST on 0421 99 55 22. Thank you.

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