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Music Therapy and Special Needs : What are the Benefits?

After receiving my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt lost. I knew that I wanted to continue my education, but didn’t know what type of program to pursue. Did I want to become a psychologist, a social worker, or perhaps a professional musician? Feeling torn in many directions, I started researching some possibilities, and when I discovered the field of music therapy, I knew that I had discovered my calling. After completing my three-year master’s program in Music Therapy, I immediately started working with children with special needs.

Thirteen years later, I am still passionate about my profession. My work is always engaging and challenging, since every one of my clients is unique. The goals I see them accomplish, and the smiles we share, keep me fulfilled and motivated. So what are some of these goals and what are the benefits of music therapy? Let’s take a look.

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.

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!

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