Cara Lechleiter, MS, BCBA, and Nadia Castagna, MMEd, gave three presentations at the ABLE Assembly: Arts Better the Lives of Everyone conference at Berklee College of Music in Boston, April 12-14.

Both presenters are full-time staff at The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) and are skilled at teaching music to students with autism.  Ms. Lechleiter, the NECC chorus director and an ACE® Software Specialist, presented “The NECC Theater Company: An Exercise in Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration” and “Harnessing the Power of Music to Teach Meaningful Goals: Three Vignettes.” Ms. Castagna, NECC’s music teacher, presented “Music Education and Severe Special Needs.”  Ms. Castagna earned her master’s in music education from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. She is one of the first in the world to have a music degree with a focus on teaching individuals with autism.

The ABLE Assembly is an annual conference hosted by the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs (BIAESN) at Berklee. BIAESN focuses on inclusion of individuals with special needs in performing and visual arts. The ABLE Assembly provides professional development and learning in the field of arts education and special needs for educators, artists, researchers, policymakers, school administrators, program administrators, and students.

NECC implemented a weekly music program following the completion of the new Dillon Arledge Student Center in 2017.  For students with autism, music education helps build community, encourages socialization, and fosters skills for independence. While in music class or chorus, students work on group participation, communication, and leisure skills.  When the arts are made accessible, students can have meaningful, creative experiences in a safe, receptive environment.

The Arledge Student Center includes a dedicated art room, student library, leisure room, career development center, and music room. The music room is filled with a variety of instruments, some of which were donated by Ernie Boch, Jr.’s Music Drives Us, as well through a generous grant by Carolyn Pruyne.

More information about the ABLE Assembly can be found on the Berklee website at