November 30, 2009

During the Riverside lecture today, we discussed the technique of Music therapy, an interactive, primarily non-verbal intervention. I enjoyed the lecture because I was very unfamiliar with the theory behind this method. To summarize from the lecture, music therapy can help in areas including:

• Communication disorders
• Learning disabilities
• Mental health problems
• Physical difficulties
• Emotional problems
• Challenging behavior

Music therapy is a powerful medium through which music is spontaneously created by the child and the therapist. No musical training or skill is necessary on the part of the patient, though the therapist is ideally a highly-trained musician. The therapist seeks to establish contact with the child through the shared use of sound; any form of communication with the child is supported with music or words. Especially effective for non-verbal patients, communication comprises music, vocalization, movement, tempo, volume, or even facial expression. The aim of music therapy is primarily non-musical and individual to each child, including:

• Increasing communication, interaction and self-expression
• Developing an awareness of self and others
• Providing emotional support
• Developing skills such as listening, sharing, and turn-taking
• Developing coordination and motor control
• Increasing self-confidence

The aim of this therapy is not to crack a secret code in the child’s psyche; rather, it seeks simply to create a setting in which he or she feels relaxed and confident enough to share thoughts with the therapist. We watched several videos of sessions and the result could be as simple as “loud music makes me feel excited and soft music makes me feel sleepy.” Often autistic children have trouble expressing such emotions, and music can provide the ideal setting for such expression.

Why music? Music is a unique and incredible medium that sharpens such skills as improvisation, rhythm, and creativity. Though non-verbal, it can improve the same skills used in conversation: listening, sustained attention, turn taking, and even the emphasis of certain sounds, helping semi-verbal children with their chunking and pacing abilities. Also, simply put, music is fun for the child – it creates a multi-sensory environment that is intrinsically motivating. Anyone would agree that music reflects emotion, and the recognition and voluntary expression of emotion is a fundamental social skill for the patients to learn.

I would also like to take time to comment on the amazing cultural experience of working in a school abroad. As part of the continued lesson on citizenship, the class took a bus ride around the neighborhood today. Not far from the school was Hall Place (follow link for picture: http://www.hallplace.com/visiting/) – a beautiful, historic house built during the reign of Henry VIII, right around the corner. Though the class did not have time for a tour, one of the TAs stopped the bus so I could have a quick look around. They then supplied me with maps and pamphlets, should I ever like to come back. During tea, the staff will often ask me what trips I’ve taken, what sights I’ve seen in London, in addition to asking me about various aspects of my home, my university, and my culture. In addition, today was many of the volunteers’ first Thanksgiving away from home, but it was unbelievably touching how many of the staff members earnestly wished us a happy holiday and wanted to know our plans for the evening. As much as I have cherished learning about disability and education, the simultaneous cultural experience of working so closely with British staff and students has been incomparable.