Music to your child’s ears

Could music therapy play a key role in your child’s development? Today’s Child investigates…

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When your favourite song comes on the radio it can change your mood in moments. That’s why music therapy is so successful when it comes to working with children. Whether your child is simply lacking in confidence, has a disability or is going through a traumatic time, the right sort of music therapy could make a big difference.

Assessment for music therapy
A music therapist will obtain extensive data on the child including a full medical history, musical ability (the ability to duplicate a melody or identify changes in rhythm) and non-musical ability (social, physical/motor and emotional functioning). This information is used to determine whether music therapy is appropriate for the child. The therapist will then formulate a treatment plan, which includes specific short-term objectives, long-term goals and an expected timeline.

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Three key music therapy techniques

1. Nordoff-Robbins
This form of music therapy was developed by Juilliard School graduate Paul Nordoff and special educator Clive Robbins. Having seen how positively disabled children responded to music, their pilot projects included placements at care units for autistic children and in child psychiatry departments.

Now a specialist music charity, Nordoff Robbins delivers thousands of music therapy sessions across the globe each year, supporting children with a range of challenges including autism and other learning difficulties, mental health problems, brain injury and depression. ‘All of these people have one uniting factor: music dramatically improves their quality of life,’ the charity claims.

The Nordoff Robbins London Centre in Kentish Town is the world’s largest dedicated music therapy centre. Visit nordoff-robbins.org.uk for more information.

2. Orff music therapy
The Orff approach uses music, dance and spoken word to focus on rhythm and improvisation. It offers a holistic grounding in the many skills and qualities that a child might need to live and work creatively.

Orff music therapy provides a range of social, emotional, cognitive, physical, therapeutic and even spiritual benefits. Carl Orff said: ‘Elemental music is near the earth, natural, physical, within the range of everyone to learn it and to experience it, and suitable for the child…It is music that one makes oneself, in which one takes part not as a listener but as a participant.’

Your children can attend one of Orff UK’s music therapy courses in London or you can hire a practitioner for school or workshop sessions. Visit orff.org.uk for more information.

3. Guided Imagery in Music (GIM)
This approach was developed by music educator and therapist Helen Lindquist Bonny. GIM can be used with children in a one-on-one or group setting, and involves relaxation techniques, identification and sharing of personal feeling states as well as improvisation to discover the self and foster growth. Music is carefully selected for the child based on their musical preferences and the goals of the session.

According to Bonny, a GIM session is designed to provide: ¬‘A secure environment for the client to become immersed in his/her inner world of imagery and feelings.’ Visit musicandimagery.org/practitioners.html for more information.

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Prenatal music therapy
Music therapy can even be used during pregnancy. By 16 weeks, the foetus is able to hear the mother’s speech as well as singing. Using ultrasound, health care professionals are able to observe the movements of the unborn child responding to musical stimuli. By the beginning of the second trimester, the ear structure is fully matured, allowing the foetus to hear not only maternal sounds, but also the vibrations of instruments.

Prenatal music therapy can help with:

• Stress relief
• Maternal-foetal bonding
• Prenatal language development

Music therapy for premature infants
Music therapy can be very beneficial in stimulating growth and development in infants born at 37 weeks or less. Premature babies face numerous struggles, such as abnormal breathing patterns, decreased body fat and muscle tissue, and feeding issues. Music therapy is typically carried out in intensive care to promote respiratory regularity and oxygen saturation levels and to decrease signs of neonatal distress. Music therapists can help to promote stronger sucking reflexes and to reduce pain perception for the infant as well as promoting parent-infant bonding.

Music therapy in child rehabilitation
When used with other rehabilitation methods, music therapy increases the success rate of sensorimotor, cognitive, and communication rehabilitation. Sessions may consist of either active techniques, where the child creates music, or receptive techniques, where the child listens to, analyses, moves and responds to music. Research shows that children undergoing chemotherapy reported lower scores in pain, heart rate, respiratory rate and anxiety levels after simply listening to music during music therapy sessions. Singing training has been found to improve lung, speech clarity, and coordination of speech muscles, thus, accelerating rehabilitation of neurological impairments.

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Music therapy for children with autism
Music therapy can be particularly useful when working with children with autism due to the nonverbal, non-threatening nature of the medium. Passing and sharing instruments, taking part in music and movement games, learning to listen and singing greetings and improvised stories can improve an autistic child’s social interaction.

Music therapy has also been shown to increase communication attempts, increase focus and attention, reduce anxiety, and improve body awareness and coordination. Short sessions of listening to percussive music or classical music with a steady rhythm have also been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and temporarily decrease anxiety-related behaviour. Target behaviours such as restlessness, aggression and noisiness can also be affected by the use of music therapy.

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Formal and informal musical options for your children

Richmond Music Trust believes that its sessions help children build confidence and encourage physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing.
Music Therapy London uses the restorative and healing qualities of music to bring about positive change in children through interaction, emotional communication and self-expression.
Moo Music encourages kids to sing, move, play, learn and have fun.
Music Bugs helps young children develop and explore the world around them through music and song.
Musical Minis offers fun music classes for toddlers, preschool kids and babies.

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