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What does Music Therapy look like with adults with Developmental Disabilities (DD) and Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI)?

A music therapy session typically starts off with a greeting song that acts as a transition into the session. After this song the music therapist leads a series of musical activities that are tailored to the individual’s needs. The following goals are addressed in a fun and motivating way through these activities.

  • Speech and communication – Singing custom written songs, i.e. “Going to take a Ride on a Rock n Roll train, Ride, Ride, Ride through the wind and the Rain…” to isolate speech sounds and get lots of repetition without monotony.
  • Fine and gross motor – Using traditional and adaptive percussive instruments, like hand drums, to address specific fine and gross motor skills.
  • Academic – Putting academic or personal information such as a phone number, 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.
  • Self-Esteem and Quality of Life Positive and successful experiences are created through fun and motivating musical experiences.

 

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.”

 

Who can Benefit?   

Everyone can benefit from music therapy and it does not require a client to have any musical skills or experience.  Music is an integral part of all of us and when that inner music can be nurtured, a person can learn, grow and thrive! 

 

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There are many ways in which Music Therapy benefits children with Autism. This video illustrates that music therapy can help with:

  • Improved Communication including:
    • Speech
    • Articulation
    • Sign Language
    • Use of Electronic Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices such as a Yes/No app on an iPad or something more complex like a Dynavox system
  • Social Skill Development such as greetings, turn-taking, joint attention and eye contact.
  • Self-Expression - This can be particularly powerful with a child who is non-verbal. Music Speaks Where Words Fail!
  • Behavioral Skills  – Creating songs and musical stories about appropriate behavior.
  • Social-Emotional Skills– Singing songs that teach a child how to identify feelings and how to cope with “big” emotions.

Other ways that Music Therapy benefits children with Autism include:

  • Motor Skill Development - These can be gross motor movements such as jumping or fine motor movements such as a two or three finger pinch (pincer grasp)
  • Academic Goals - Putting academic information into a song format so that recall is improved.
  • Sensory Regulation - Calming music, the use of rhythm, and instrument play can all help a child feel organized and grounded.
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My most recent video blog post shows my work with a girl with Autism who is non-verbal and has many sensory needs. She comes into the session upset and anxious and I do my best to help her regulate her sensory system so that she can calm down and work on her therapeutic goals with me.

Whether you are a parent, teacher or therapist, if you try to get a child with sensory integration issues to do work without first addressing their sensory system, you are going to be fighting a losing battle.

Let's put this into perspective. If you were to go into work with a rash that was itching like crazy, a headache, and hunger pains gnawing at your belly, it would be really hard to focus on your work and get things done, right? When a child has a dis-regulated sensory system, this is what it can be like for them.

So what can you do to help regulate a child's sensory system? You can:

  • Have calming instrumental music playing at 60 beats per minute (resting heart rate). Click here and scroll down to the music player to check out my "Sleep Soundly" CD to listen to an example. This is the music that you hear in the background of this video blog post.
  • Zip it! Keep you words and directives/prompts to a minimum.
  • Turn down the lights! Avoid using fluorescents if possible.
  • Give the child a fidget toy or mouthing/chew toy to help them get the sensory input that they need to become regulated.
  • Use deep pressure if that what your child craves (consult with an OT about how to do this).
  • Many children respond well to swinging so if you have a swing, use it.
  • Use a calming activity such as blowing bubbles. If you can have them blow a bubble off of the wand that is great since it will be encouraging deep breaths.
  • Consult with an Occupational Therapist! OT's are well-versed in sensory regulation strategies.
  • As with any intervention, it all depends on the child and his/her individual needs and challenges, so be observant and try to learn more about their sensory needs.

 

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As a music therapist, I not only focus on traditional therapy goals such as speech/communication, but I also work to boost a child's self-esteem. Here is a great song that you can use with individuals with special needs. 

Please sign up for my newsletter full of great tips and special education resources at http://www.therhythmtree.com/user-registration  

To learn about my workshops and webinars please visit my workshop page at http://www.therhythmtree.com/workshops

Visit http://www.therhythmtree.com/store to learn more about this on-line video course. This video is an excerpt from this "Music for Social Skills Development" course to show you some of the easy-to-learn songs and activities that you will be learning. This good-bye song with a child with Autism shows how to work on eye contact, social interaction and farewells. 

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