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How to use music to help children with Williams syndrome

Music and Williams Syndrome

I believe that children with Williams syndrome deserve to learn, grow and develop in a fun and motivational way. I use to accomplish this. Over the past 13 years, I have specialized in providing music therapy services for children with special needs, and I am so happy to be able to share some of what I have learned with you. I will be giving you some great tools for incorporating music into your home program and into the daily life of your child.

One of the reasons that music is such a great way to help a child develop is because it is a multi-sensory experience that activates many different regions of the brain simultaneously! Combine this with the fact that it brings joy and success, and you can see why it can be a powerful modality for growth. Music can be used to help children develop gross motor skills, fine motor skills, social skills, and academic skills. It can also be used to reduce a child’s sensitivity to loud noises and to help him/her work through anxiety. There is so much to cover, so let’s start with those gross motor skills!

Dancing and moving to music can be a great way to address gross motor skills. There are a lot of great movement songs out there, but why not create your own? This will give you the power to tailor the movements to the specific needs of your child. This is not as difficult as it may sound. First, think of a fun children’s song that you already know and that your child likes. Let’s work with “Brother John.” The trick is to change the lyrics to make them movement based. In the following example, I have put the original lyrics under the modified ones to make it easier for you to follow.

Are you jumping, are you jumping, little Jane, little Jane?

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, Brother John Brother John?

Jumping up so high yes, Jumping up so high yes,

Morning bells are ring-ing Morning bells are ring-ing

You’re the best, you’re the best

Din Dan Don, Din Dan Don

You can then substitute other actions such as balancing on one foot, bear crawling, tippy toe walking, side-stepping, marching, hopping, etc. One of the keys to making this a successful activity is to make it fun and lively. If you have a drum, a tambourine, or other percussive instrument, play along and reflect the actions with your playing. For example, with jumping, you can hit the drum right when your child’s feet hit the ground.

Fine motor skills can also be addressed through musical activities such as fingerplays and using musical iPad apps. Fingerplays such a “Where is Thumbkin?” can be great for working on isolating individual fingers. Apps such as Boogie Bopper by Tickle Tap Apps are perfect for isolating one finger and targeting small circles to create melodies. Playing real instruments is another way to use music to improve fine motor skills and hand strength. Many music therapists teach adaptive music lessons and this can be a great way to feed your child’s musical appetite and have them improve their fine motor skills at the same time! If you decide to look for a teacher, set up some trial lessons to make sure that you find someone with the training and sensitivity to make lessons fun, motivating and success-based.

Not only can music help with gross and fine motor skills, but it can also be used to address social skill development. When working on a social skill, I have found it beneficial to write a social story and put it to music. One way to do this is to use the lyric substitution technique that I mentioned with the movement songs. Take a familiar melody such as Wheels on the Bus and change the words. The following example illustrates just the beginning of a musical social story.

When I’m at the store,

The Wheels on the bus

Or in the park or here and there a------ny where

go round and round, round and round, round and round

I will see pe-ople that I don’t know

The Wheels on the bus go round and round

They come and go

All through the town

Instead of singing a social story, you can instead chant the words to a social story to give it a strong rhythmic feel and to make it more engaging. Once you come up with your musical social story, you can add it to an iPad with an app such as TapSpeakSequence. This will allow your child to review the story throughout the day.

Academic information and personal information can also be put to music to make it easily remembered. Math concepts, phone numbers, addresses, you name it! If you don’t want to create your own academic songs, there are products that you can buy that have these concepts put to music. One such product is “Rock N Learn” at The developers of this have put math and money facts to music and video.

When working with your child’s sensitivity to sound, I find it best to give them the role of the conductor/leader. When listening to music or even better, playing instruments together, your child can decide whether the two of you play soft, medium or loud. Try out different types of easy-to-play instruments such as drums, bells, rhythm sticks, tambourines, etc. and incorporate humor into your playing in order to create even more positive associations with louder sounds. To see a video that illustrates this, please take a look at This is a video of me working with a child with Williams syndrome and incorporating these concepts. If you do decide to work on this with your child, please do it in a sensitive manner and work in small increments. If you child is having fun and laughing, you are on the right track.

Music can also help decrease anxiety in your child. Explore different types of music that you think your child would enjoy and search for songs that are relaxing for them. Then make a relaxation playlist on a phone or mp3 player and have headphones, preferably noise cancelling ones, that your child can use to listen with. Anxiety provoking experiences and transitions can be improved with this approach.

In addition to all of the aforementioned goal areas that music can help with, it is so important not to forget the most important benefit of music. Music can feed and enliven your child’s spirit and can bring joy and beauty into their life. These children deserve to have their days filled with music and song. There are so many fun and enjoyable ways to do this so don’t wait to start exploring the many ways that you can add more music into your child’s life!

For a more in depth discussion of the topics that we briefly touched upon in this article, please join me for an upcoming webinar through the Williams Syndrome Changing Lives Foundation. The details are still emerging so stay tuned.

If you are looking for more great tools and tips to use music to bond with your child and help him/her reach developmental goals, please visit my website and sign up for my free newsletter at The purpose of this newsletter is to share tips, tricks and resources with you so that you can become even better at using music to bond with your child and help him/her learn and develop.

I have also developed a DVD and Music package for children with special needs. This package gives you all of the tools that you need to bring the joy and benefit of music into your home. For more information and to hear what other parents and therapists are saying about it please visit

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