Five Ways Music Therapy Benefits Children with Special Needs
“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” – Leonard Bernstein
Music can be powerful: it can bring back the feeling of your first heartbreak; it can lift you up when you are feeling low or calm you down when you are on edge; it can help you solve a problem. It also makes you want to move, whether it’s your whole body dancing or your pointer finger tapping. When something is so powerful that it can evoke numerous responses, feelings, and memories, it only seems natural that it would also be effective as a form of therapy. And music is.
As defined by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Music therapy for children with special needs uses music to address children’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs.
Interventions involving music therapy can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation. Music therapy also helps motivate children to become more engaged in their treatment.
Singing, listening, and moving to music; creating music with instruments and sounds; and tapping out rhythms are all methods used in music therapy. Some of the numerous special needs in which music therapy has been proven beneficial are: autism, cerebral palsy, childhood apraxia of speech, learning disabilities, and asthma. Music therapy isn’t limited to this list, however, and has also been proven helpful for children who struggle with depression, have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suffer from anxiety, and lack self-confidence. Music therapy for children is interactive and designed to be fun. Music
therapist Ryan Judd puts it 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 clients don’t realize how hard they are working.”
Let’s dig a little deeper and identify five specific ways music therapy can be beneficial to children with special needs.
Improving Communication and Speech
One of the wonderful things about the power of music therapy is that it allows some children to learn in ways they never have before, as well as to communicate in a whole new manner. Many children with special needs struggle with necessary communication skills like making eye contact, taking turns, sharing, and developing fine and gross motor skills. Typically, in a music therapy session, children will practice succeeding at these skills. During goal-oriented sessions, the child will receive simple instructions that require a simple response.
Because music therapy can involve singing, children are able to practise vocalizing and dramatically improve their language development. When children sing songs especially designed to isolate certain speech sounds, they get lots of practice making those sounds and have fun doing it.
Improving Motor and Sensory Skills
Think of all the ways we move when we listen to music and the ways we participate with others when we’re at a concert enjoying our favorite artists. We clap; move our feet; snap our fingers; tap out the tune on our knees; and, sometimes, even pretend we’re playing the drums. Just imagine what those same movements can do for a child with special needs. Clapping, beating out rhythms, and playing real instruments like tambourines and maracas are excellent ways to improve coordination and refine motor skills.
Improving Behavioral andSocial-Emotional Skills
Songs that speak specifically to appropriate behavior and that help children learn how to identify their complicated feelings and cope with overwhelming emotions are employed in music therapy as ways to effectively communicate these issues. Music therapy has also been shown to help children relax, ease their stress, and reduce their anxiety levels so they are more able to be in control of their emotions. Children also learn the basics of saying “hello” and “good-bye,” taking turns, sharing, making eye contact, and asking for things properly through musical activities.
Children benefiting from music therapy are always given manageable goals to achieve. These success-based activities address developmental skills. By achieving success through completing musical tasks, their self-confidence grows. Experiencing what it’s like to make their own sounds and rhythmic patterns also gives children pleasure. The experience is tremendously supportive for them.
Improving Cognitive Skills
Children’s cognitive activity and their self-awareness can be improved concurrently by music because it stimulates both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. If a child with autism increases their self-awareness, they are better able to interact effectively with others. Song lyrics can be conducive to their learning valuable lessons about social interactions. Impulse control is difficult for children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or ADHD, but listening to classical music can have a positive effect on their concentration and focus.
Music is an effective form of all kinds of expression. Through it, children can get rid of their pentup feelings. For those who struggle with communication and language, music provides a valuable outlet through which they can release their feelings of joy, frustration, anger, love, worry, sadness, fear, and any other emotion they have felt but were never able to express. Music therapy gives children with special needs a viable way of communicating complicated feelings, grasping difficult concepts, interacting with others, learning, understanding, and developing. Most of all it brings the joy and magic of music into their lives in a way that will change them forever.