Music a Joint Effort
Music Therapy and Music Education do not offer the same benefits to the handicapped child, though both play major roles in overall growth and development, according to professionals in both fields. Jennifer Sokira, Board Certified Music Therapist and founder of the Connecticut Music Therapy Service, puts it this way. "The goal of Music Education is to learn music, and the goal of Music Therapy is to improve the client or student's health."
Working in both private and school settings, Ms. Sokira designs music programs and uses a number of techniques to achieve positive goals. Some examples are the inclusion of different adaptive instrument devices, like switches that allow those with a broad range of physical or cognitive abilities to play music together in a group setting while still working at his or her own level.
There are many other assistive computerized programs available across the country for the handicapped or special needs child, as well as basic things like velcro bands for those who find it difficult or impossible to hold certain instruments. Ms. Sokira also finds other adaptive resources helpful like those for the non-verbal child who may profit from videotaping sessions with the Music Therapist, or listening to a variety of music recordings. "Especially with those on the Autism Spectrum, we find that employing these methods actually improve skills like turn-taking and fluency of sound and style."
Kay Luedtke-Smith, Senior Music Therapist for the nationally renowned Fraser School in Minneapolis, MN, adds that using multiple teaching methods in an inclusive setting (typical needs and special needs kids) is valuable to both groups. Mainstreaming is becoming quite common in public and private education, and the music teacher should be playing a vital role in this process.
Since 1935, the Fraser School has led the way in this mainstreaming with proven success. Ms. Luedtke-Smith suggests additional simple techniques she's used over her twenty years of experience at Fraser, including some specifics for the non-verbal child. Singing instructions instead of speaking them, using repetition of sounds or phrases, and something called "slow language," which calls for the child to fill in missing beats of a familiar song. "Eventually, most of these children will even begin to supply the missing word or words to that song," she says.
Reiterating that music truly is a universal language, she sees that children with emotional issues find great release when playing the drums or guitar. This is probably because those instruments call for more physical contact and they can be outlets for expressing frustrations in a positive way.