Music Therapy for Children with Special Needs

What is music therapy?

Music is an ordinary part of life. Parents across the world for generations have used rhythms, tones and songs to sooth or engage their children. Music evokes moods and can be playful or calming, wistful or celebratory. As such it provides the key to emotional and social development which are the building blocks of learning.

Music therapy uses these unique qualities of music and the musical elements of rhythm, melody and harmony to involve the child or group of children.

Why might we want to use music therapy?

Musical responsiveness is present as an ability and developing this ability to its greatest extent benefits children with special needs because they may have fewer other opportunities.

Music therapists have specific skills to help children make the most out of their innate musicality to boost their development and improve their quality of life.

How does music therapy work?

Children’s natural musicality motivates them to listen and join in either by dancing, playing instruments, singing or watching others. The improvisational and creative aspects of music making in music therapy and often allows children to concentrate for longer than usual. Essential aspects of non-verbal communication are encouraged in music therapy such as turn-taking, eye contact, anticipation, listening and concentration, and supporting awareness of self and others. Speech and vocal expression are developed through songs and vocal games.

Through musical interaction with others, children develop an increased understanding of themselves and others, which raises their self-esteem and helps develop resilience. Shared music-making has also been shown to stimulate language skills and to strengthen family and peer relationships.

What evidence is there that music therapy is beneficial?

There is a growing body of research and evidence that proves the effectiveness of music therapy with children and young people.

Music therapy within schools has been recognised by OfSTED as beneficial in addressing educational and pastoral needs of children. It has also featured on OfSTED’s ‘Good Practice’ website in relation to music education and special needs.

The following paper, produced by Cambridgeshire Music, has drawn together an evidence base highlighting the effectiveness and value of music therapy for children and young people

How will I know that music therapy is working for my child?

Before your child begins music therapy, you will meet with the music therapist and discuss how music therapy can support your child in their growth and development. Your child will then be offered an assessment. The purpose of the assessment is to identify what benefits music therapy can bring. Possible benefits include:

  • Communication skills
  • Social skills
  • Self-expression
  • Confidence
  • Sense of self and others
  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Psychological wellbeing
  • Playfulness, creativity and spontaneity
  • Listening skills
  • Concentration and attention skills
  • Physical, sensory and cognitive skills

Every child is unique and as such the possibilities for music therapy are different for each child.

Throughout the period of therapy, the therapist will involve you and other professionals e.g. your child’s teacher. The therapist will offer times for you to meet with them to discuss your child’s therapy and these meetings provide the opportunity to review the impact music therapy is having for your child. Your child’s music therapist will also offer a written report as part of the initial assessment and then you will be asked to contribute to the assessment and review process by giving your feedback. An example feedback form can be found here.

Want to find out more? Got a question?