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Music Therapy for Adults with Developmental Disabilities and Acquired Brain Injuries

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is an established health care profession that uses research based musical interventions to address therapeutic goals. The field began in the 1950s when musicians started to work with World War II vets in the hospital setting. When the doctors and nurses observed the positive physical and emotional effect the music was having on their patients, it was decided that a formal college curriculum should be developed. Today, there are bachelors, masters and doctorate programs in music therapy. Board Certified Music Therapists now work in a variety of clinical settings with many different populations.

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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