ACM gift aims to improve lives of children with autism spectrum disorder

ACM Lifting Lives logo

ACM Lifting Lives, the charitable arm of the Academy of Country Music, has made a generous gift to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for programs and research demonstrating the healing power of music to improve the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder.

This gift creates the ACM Lifting Lives Autism Lab at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and will establish autism as one of ACM Lifting Lives’ signature initiatives while enabling Vanderbilt to expand the reach and impact of its expertise in the field.

“Since 2012, ACM Lifting Lives has partnered with Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) on a weeklong residential program for musically talented individuals with Williams Syndrome, which affects 1 in 10,000 people. This camp has held a dual purpose of studying Williams syndrome and other developmental disabilities by providing music enrichment through both performance and education, and we are so thrilled to be able to partner with VKC on another scale,” said Lyndsay Cruz, ACM Lifting Lives executive director.

“Given our commitment to people with developmental disabilities, Vanderbilt invited us to build on our partnership through support of a program to bring the healing power of music to a much larger population: children with autism spectrum disorder, who now represent 1 in every 54 children in the United States.”

The rising incidence of autism diagnoses underscores the importance of investment in promising programs and research.

“The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s relationship with ACM Lifting Lives is unique and has been a catalyst for the center’s mission to conduct groundbreaking research and then share these discoveries to benefit the lives of children and families everywhere,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Through the ACM’s generosity we are grateful for the opportunity to extend and amplify this critical work.”

The ACM Lifting Lives gift will support the following programs at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center:

  • TRIAD (Treatment and Research for Autism Spectrum Disorders), a wide-ranging program whose mission is to improve assessment and treatment services for children with autism spectrum disorder and their families, while advancing knowledge and training. ACM Lifting Lives’ funding will support family training and community engagement programming as the TRIAD team builds on existing partnerships with the Tennessee Department of Education, school districts, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Tennessee Early Intervention System. The goal is to build capacity in local communities and school districts to help families facing autism.
  • SENSE Theatre, a theatre program designed to enhance the social and emotional functioning of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and related neurodevelopmental disorders. Research on the program has demonstrated that the communication and social skills of children with autism can be significantly enhanced through participation in structured theatrical and musical experiences. Funding will enable more families to participate.
  • Music Cognition Lab, a multidisciplinary program that focuses on the relationship among music, language and social development, incorporating neuroscience, psychology, education, audiology, speech-language pathology, medicine, music and engineering. ACM Lifting Lives’ funding will support this important research on the impact of music on language acquisition and development.
  • Expansion of telehealth, enabling professionals to provide long-distance education, intervention and monitoring. Already a leader in the use of telehealth, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center will be able to reach far more children, particularly those in rural and other underserved areas.

“The timing of this gift could not be more advantageous,” said Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made the expansion of telehealth vitally important in treatment of people with developmental disabilities, as in all areas of health care. Previously, we used remote technologies mostly to provide teachers with tools to use in the classroom. More recently, we have demonstrated that we can use telehealth to accurately diagnose children with autism, monitor their progress and coach parents in best practices. Now we can apply that knowledge to serve far more families.”

This story originally appeared in VUMC Reporter.

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