Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Music, art and dance as therapy for autism, more

TAMPA — Inside a nondescript office on Busch Boulevard, directions are doled out in song, bare feet are encouraged and smiles are collected like precious gems.

As fun as it sounds, not everyone is enthusiastic to enter.

Even the brightly colored walls and a hallway mural of The Little Mermaid do little to entice the most reluctant clients further.

That's when Mattie Mingst picks up her acoustic guitar.

A music therapist, Mingst knows the power music has when working with children with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities.

And, sure enough, when she strums, kids tend to line up behind her.

"It calms them right down," Mingst said.

At Therabilities Performing Arts Center, where Mingst can often be found singing a catchy children's tune, music is therapy. Launched in the spring by Lourdes Quinones, a physical therapist, the center also offers art and dance therapy classes to children with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.

The group classes often resemble playtime more than therapy, but that's the point, Quinones said.

"We want to reach the child in a therapeutic way but in a nontherapy environment," she said.

Students, she said, don't realize that they are learning valuable school-readiness skills, such as how to raise their hands and wait in line.

On a recent afternoon, three children marched across a pretend farm, picking up paper fruits and vegetables while Mingst sang the directions to make it easier to understand.

"Some nonverbal children sing before they talk," Quinones said.

The class then moved on to art, where paper plates were transformed into pumpkins with the help of colored paper and glue. Quinones strapped ankle and wrist weights onto 5-year-old Donovan McClain, at his request, to help him calm down and concentrate.

"Applying deep pressure or compression helps quiet the neurons that are going crazy," Mingst said.

With the pumpkins complete, the class danced its way to an obstacle course across the hall, where the children followed a path over a step and onto a small trampoline.

The hour-long class ended with one more song. This one slow, quiet and calming.

As the children wound down, Donovan's mother, Yves McClain, of Wesley Chapel, watched. The classes have been helpful in treating Donovan's speech delay, she said.

"He has a speech therapist at school, too, and combined with this, it's really improving," McClain said. "And he has such a good time."

Marianna Rodriguez enrolled her 4-year-old son, Mateo, in the class three months ago. Mateo is on the autism spectrum and she has already noticed a difference in her child's behavior.

"He's more social and following directions more," Rodriguez said. "This has been a real blessing."

Because the classes are group therapy instead of individual sessions, they are not usually covered by Medicaid or private health insurers, so parents have to pay out of pocket. Quinones is currently exploring options to become a nonprofit organization so the classes would be available to those who can't afford the extra cost.

"The community is looking for alternative therapy methods," Quinones said. "In groups, they are motivated by each other. For many, one-on-one therapy might not work well but in group settings they thrive."

The center currently has about 20 clients, but Quinones hopes to grow as time goes on. But mostly, she just wants to continue collecting smiles.

"Before you know it, the kids who didn't want to come," Quinones said, "don't want to leave."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at or (813) 226-3401.

. fast facts


225 W Busch Blvd. Suite 102, Tampa. For more information: (813) 344-0960;

Music, art and dance as therapy for autism, more 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 4:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. New 'cantina-style' Taco Bells to serve alcohol, ditch drive-thrus by 2022


    Taco Bell is ditching drive-thrus and adding alcohol.

    Taco Bell plans to open more than 300 "cantina style" stores across the country that ditches the drive-thru and adds alcohol. [Times Files]
  2. Late Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella was a fighter until the end

    Swimming Preps

    At swim meets, Cailin Cannella would race side-by-side with her breastroke competitors, their heads bobbing in near unison.

    Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella, here at age 13, still was practicing last year after finding out she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). [Times 2016]
  3. Gators roundtable: Was that really a Hail Mary?


    Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks' last-second heave beat Tennessee Saturday in Gainesville, but was it a Hail Mary, typically a pass made in desperation with little chance of success? The Times' college football coveage team weighs in:


    Feleipe Franks #13 of the Florida Gators celebrates with his teammates after he threw a 63-yard pass at the end of the game to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
  4. Ernest Hooper: Hillsborough marks 100th anniversary of historic photo collection


    Everyone ends up with a favorite

    Or two or three or 10.

    Rest assured, however, no one who adores Tampa Bay, appreciates art or cherishes history can explore the Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection without storing at least one snapshot in the mental scrapbook.

    Part of the Burgert Brothers collection now featured through the Hillsborough Public Library shows a beer garden on Central Avenue in Tampa from July 1942. [Burgert Brothers collection]
  5. Tonight: St. Petersburg's six City Council candidates face off


    ST. PETERSBURG — Politics took a break in Hurricane Irma, but now it's time for City Council races to get going. The Council of Neighborhood Associations is set to host a candidate forum for the six candidates vying for three council seats at stake in November.