What is music therapy and how can it help improve mood and communication in the special needs population?
Everyone knows that music can lift spirits, reduce stress, and help us unwind and relax after a hard day’s work, but music therapy is not just merely listening to music!
Music therapy is when educated and trained professionals utilize scientifically based practices and techniques to help individuals achieve their own unique and personal health, educational, physical, emotional, cognitive, and social goals.
Music can be used therapeutically to improve sensory processing, communication and academic achievement, increase attention span, improve motor skills and behavior, and even assist with pain management.
I first became curious about music therapy after realizing one day that Bethany cooperated better when I sang silly songs of my requests to her rather than when I just gruffly barked out orders.
I also noticed that singing silly songs to Bethany as we went about our day, could drag her out of a bad mood, at least for a little while, anyway.
So the wheels in my head began spinning overtime.
If my silly songs could do that much for Bethany, I wondered how exposing her to music in a more professional and formal manner might benefit her!
Unfortunately for us, after doing a little research, I discovered that there aren’t any professional music therapy programs within a 90 minute drive of us, nor does our insurance even pay for it.
That was a bit of a disappointment for me, but I didn’t let it defeat me, because during my research I also came across some community music classes offered at The Community Music and Arts Network, which is not too far from where we live!
The class description sounded like a typical “Mommy and Me” class for toddlers and preschoolers, but the website also mentioned that the instructor had some experience working with the special needs population.
So, I made a phone call and scheduled a date to meet with the instructor.
She invited Bethany to attend a class with the preschoolers.
I was a little apprehensive at first, because even though Bethany acts like a toddler and would fit in with the other students emotionally, she is almost 18 years old!
I thought it would be better of she attended a class with people who were closer to her in age, but there were no classes with kids her age.
As it turned out, Bethany attended and loved her first music class and the other students, the “babies” (as Bethany calls them) seemed to like her, too!
So we decided to tell Bethany that music class is her “job” where she is supposed to help the babies learn about music, how to play instruments, and how to share and clean up!
That way, she doesn’t feel as if we are treating her like a baby.
But mostly, it’s for my benefit, so I feel better about her spending time with little kids rather than kids her own age!
So, after all that, you may be wondering if music class has actually benefited Bethany in some way.
Well, the goals I was hoping for Bethany to achieve through her attendance at music class were to make her happier, reduce her meltdowns, improve her expressive communication skills , and help her express her emotions in a more appropriate manner.
I can’t say for certain that Bethany has achieved any of those goals just by attending music class alone.
But I can say for certain that her incidents of meltdowns have decreased, she’s developed some new conversation skills, she’s more cooperative all around, and music class definitely makes her happy!
Specifically, some of the improvements we are noticing are:
- Bethany has recently begun spontaneously initiating real give and take conversations about her activities!
- She comes home from an outing and actually tells us all about what she did, without any prompting.
- She is asking to call and skype friends and family members more frequently and actually has real give and take conversations with them!
- She has expanded her conversations beyond just answering questions with a yes or no!
- She has expanded her self initiated conversations beyond just asking us the same sets of questions repetitively and perseverativley over and over again!
- And last but certainly not least, just mentioning that it’s music class day, instantly puts Bethany in a happy mood!
Now I call that progress!
For more information about Music Therapy please go to the AMTA, American Music Therapy Association!
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