Music therapy is multi-sensory which achieves multiple goals simultaneously.
Why is music Therapy Beneficial for Children with special needs?
Music therapy is especially beneficial as music is processed in all areas of the brain. Also, music therapy is multi-sensory and can enable us to work on multiple goals simultaneously.
Music therapist who work with children with special needs or on the Autism Spectrum use evidence-based music therapy interventions to address developmental, social-emotional and educational goals in the following areas:
- Speech and communication development
Music therapy can help isolate speech sounds though singing in a repetitive manner to help children with speech, articulation and language development.
Music therapy can also help support children who are non-verbal to access and develop communication through improvised rhythms on piano, drums or other percussion based instruments. The interplay between the music therapist and child is done in a non-threatening way, opening up many channels of communication.
- Behavioral support
Music therapy can help support and modify children's behaviors through music and act as positive reinforcer to increase target goal wanted behaviors. It also can be reinforced in original songs and stories helping children recognize, sing and act out positive behaviors in particular social situations.
- Social-emotional learning
Music therapy can help children can identify and understand their feelings through songs, sounds and social interactions in either individual and group sessions. Music therapy provides structure and social exchanges where they can learn to interact more effectively.
Imitation, turn-taking, joint attention, shared affect and empathy are all intertwined in the music therapy process. Most children with special needs and on the Autism spectrum often communicate more effectively through music than through words. Music therapy can give the child space to express themselves and make them feel like they've truly been heard.
- Fine and gross motor control
- Academic progress
- Social skill development
- Sensory Regulation
When should one consider music therapy for their child?
Most every can benefit from music therapy. Most parents or professionals will refer a child to music therapy once they have a diagnosis or a love for music. However, your child does have to musical in order to engage in music therapy.
Music therapists who work with children, adolescents and adults with Autism, Down syndrome and other special needs, use music to address developmental goals in the following areas:
- Speech and communication – Singing custom written songs, i.e. Big Bear Takes a Bubble Bath, to isolate speech sounds and get lots of repetition without monotony.
- Fine and gross motor – Using traditional and adaptive percussive instruments, like maracas, to address specific fine and gross motor skills.
- Academic – Putting academic information into a song format so that recall is improved.
- Social skill development – Music therapy groups where clients practice greetings, turn taking, eye contact, requesting, self-expression, collaboration, etc., through musical activities.
- Behavioral - Creating songs and musical stories about appropriate behavior.
- Social-Emotional – Using songs to teach a client how to identify feelings and use coping strategies when they are feeling overwhelmed.
Who Can benefit From Music Therapy?
Anyone can benefit from music therapy but children with the following diagnoses have most benefited from music therapy:
- Williams Syndrome
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Down Syndrome
- Attention Deficit Hyper-Active Disorder
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Cerebral Palsy
- Learning Disability
How is Music Therapy Beneficial for Children With special needs?
1. It is multi-sensory
Music is appealing to most of our senses, which makes music therapy unique in that we can work on multiple goals simultaneously. For example, a drumming exercise helps with eye-hand coordination, eye contact, motor and impulse control.
2. It is fun, safe and engaging
Music therapy provides a fun, safe and engaging environment for children with autism to explore and play. It also provides many opportunities for successful outcomes which helps to builds self-esteem and increases motivation.
3. It is structured and predictable
Music therapy can provide a structured and safe environment for children with autism to explore. Music that has a lot of repetition is predictable, which makes learning much easier for children with autism. The musical repetition helps them to self-regulate, because they know what is coming up next.
4. It is processed in all areas of the brain
Recent research shows that when we listen to music, all areas of the brain are lit up. Music therapists have known this for a long time, but now have the science to back it up. Music can help with speech and communication challenges, for social connection, for emotional regulation, motor control, and many other things.
5. It facilitates communication
Perhaps you’ve heard that “music is the universal language.” Taking this literally, we can use music in therapy to increase non-verbal communication through improvisation. Children with autism connect to music to express their feelings, emotions, and life stories.
Why do adults with DD and ABI respond so well to music therapy?
Adults with DD and ABI do so well in music therapy because it captivates attention, motivates action and brings joy and success. Music can be beneficial in so many ways because it is processed in both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is also a multi-sensory activity that incorporates the visual, kinesthetic, auditory and tactile systems. This is especially true when moving to music or playing instruments such as drums, tambourines or shakers. In addition, music is non-verbal so for those who struggle with language, music can be a wonderful way to connect with others and express oneself. Hans Christian Anderson once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”
Music therapy effectively addresses these goals through research-based interventions, and can support and improve an existing autism therapy or Down syndrome treatment program. In addition to the goals mentioned above, a music therapist can also build up a person’s self-esteem and feed their spirit. With all of the struggles that people with special needs face, it is so important to support them in this way. Music therapists are trained to create success-based activities that address developmental skills. We are always striving to make sessions so fun and musical, that our client’s don’t realize how hard they are working. Now that’s a recipe for success!