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Music Therapy 101: Early Intervention’s Secret Weapon

Posted Aug 30 2011 10:00am

Welcome to the second post in the Music Therapy 101 for the Newly Diagnosed series. Be sure to check out my other posts in the series and comment with any thoughts or questions.

As a parent of a child receiving early intervention services, have you ever thought “What could make this even better?”

I’ve worked with many parents who have watched their child struggle to learn and utilize needed skills from ‘traditional’ early intervention therapies.

This is where the secret weapon comes in.

In Maximizing your Early Intervention Therapy Time , I referenced music therapy’s ability to integrate skills as one of its differences from traditional therapies.

Music therapy can take the skills that speech, occupational, and physical therapists are focusing on and present them in a manner that is accessible and natural for the child.

What do I mean by this?

Let’s create a fictional child with autism. We’ll call him Sam. Sam is 4 years old, currently participating in speech, occupational, and physical therapy. Sam is verbal, but often repeats lines from movies, or things heard in conversation as a way to express himself. He is a huge fan of the movie Cars, and knows every song from Rio. He also speaks from the throat in a monotone and pressured manner. Sam doesn’t make frequent eye contact, and seldom participates in an activity for more than 2 minutes. Sam can count to 100, can read at a first grade level, perform basic math, and tell time. Sam doesn’t keep his shoes on very long either, and if he cannot take them off, he will deregulate, often kicking, screaming, and crying. Sam also has difficulty running, jumping, and with hand-eye coordination.

Speech therapy can address the verbal skills and pressured speech. Occupational therapy can help him learn to keep his shoes on, and to learn skills to help manage the sensory difficulties of the shoes. Physical therapy will help Sam to run, jump, and develop hand eye coordination.

Music Therapy, however, provides an opportunity for Sam to sing songs from Rio while stomping around the room and playing a hand drum.

Speech skills. Sensory skills. Hand eye coordination. Motor planning. Rio, which he already loves.

And that’s just the first treatment session!

As sessions continue, rapport will build and Sam can begin to express emotions through musical play, and be assisted by the music therapist in putting words to those feelings. The therapist will prompt Sam with questions about Rio, or math and reading through tailored songs, giving him the opportunity to respond with his own words. Musical Movement activities will help Sam jump, run, and become more aware of his body and space.

Not only that, but music therapy will help Sam manage his meltdowns, teach him turn taking and sharing, and address any other areas in which he may have needs. Music therapy, while integrating the skills learned in other therapies, can also present new skills to Sam.

In the scenario, Sam was receiving focused attention in the needed areas by his traditional therapies, but music therapy provided a natural (and enjoyable!) way for him to successfully integrate those skills into one fluid movement- playing the drum while stomping and singing his favorite songs.

Participation in music utilizes many of our developmental areas: communication- both verbal and listening, motor skills, emotions, and social skills. An intervention may be focused on eliciting a particular response, but seldom does it focus on only that area. Because of this ability, music therapy is a secret weapon that shouldn’t be secret! Children in early intervention therapies deserve this opportunity safely practice integrating skills, as well as learning other skills important to their development.

Have you experienced this secret weapon for your child? If not, what is stopping you?

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