Music therapy may not be as common as some of the others we’re used to (PT, OT, and Speech) but it can be just as helpful. Most of the information online seems to be geared toward children – as we often see – but we can also approach music therapy from a lifelong learner perspective.
Let’s start with a definition of what music therapy is.
Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.
The AMTA is the best source of information on what music therapy is, who is qualified to provide it and what is not clinical music therapy. They also address whether music therapy is a covered expense when it comes to health insurance. For example, in Arizona, Medicaid covers music therapy provided to individuals with developmental disabilities. A news story out of South Carolina claims that, in that state, Medicaid considers music therapy as a reimbursable service, but does not consider licensed music therapists as covered providers. You may want to investigate the rules in your state.
The Music Therapy Center of California published a “fact sheet” about music therapy and Down syndrome geared toward practicing therapists. It gives a broad overview about what Ds is, then lists several areas that music therapy can address in this population:
SPEECH: Music therapy can be an effective modality for children with Down syndrome to develop speech and language skills in the areas of: expressive and receptive communication, choice-making, oral motor, sequencing, motor planning, sentence structure, phonemic awareness, speech intelligibility and patterns of language.
COGNITIVE/ACADEMIC: Music can be used as mnemonic device to teach specific academic information such as phone number, address, and other factual information
MOTOR: Music therapy may be useful in improving gross motor skills such as sitting and walking and may improve postural alignment.
SOCIAL: Music therapy provides an opportunity for social training by giving children with Down syndrome a positive experience with other peers and adults.
Again, while these issues describe skills that we typically address during childhood, the need may still be there for some teens and adults.
Music therapist, William Murray, from Toronto talks about his experience with people who have Down syndrome:
I have found over the years that the majority of children, youth and young adults with Down Syndrome have noticeable difficulties with rhythm.
He also references the research by Barry B. Bittman, MD about the health benefits of rhythm and drumming.
One young researcher even questions whether music therapy could help people with Down syndrome avoid the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to give music therapy a try can be gleaned by a story out of Phoenix, AZ. The story focuses on 14-year-old Christina who has been taking piano lessons from her mother, as a way to work on broadening her attention span. The lessons have allowed her to gain self-confidence as well:
“I am a piano star,” Christina said.
“She knows she is different,” Daniela said. “She knows she is discriminated against and she knows when people are talking about her.”
So for Christina to find her place in music, Daniela says, it is incredible. As she becomes more confident about her art, she becomes more confident about her place in the world.