Music Therapy Saves Money In Special Education

 So you just read the title and clicked on this post, all the while you  may be thinking to yourself, “Oh come on, how can a service that I have to pay for out of my already stretched thin budget really save my facility money?”First of all let me say that YES, You will have to pay for music therapy services, BUT keep on reading and I will elaborate on how it will save you money.Evidence-Based Research with Proven Results Music therapy is a scientifically based practice. Music therapist’s set goals for each individual or group and we document progress toward those goals. We conduct research and publish the results in our professional journals and those of related disciplines.

So if you are the administrator for a public or private special education program, these are outcomes that are experienced by a large majority of students– even those individuals that don’t respond well to other types of interventions.

¯ Reduces disruptive behavior –In June of 2003 Psychiatric times published a review of    music therapy research that concluded that music therapy is an effective modality to reduce disruptive behavior in children and teens with behavior disorders, communication disorders and autism spectrum disorders. Read that article here.

¯ Music Therapy Enhances Social Skills Enhances social skills – The National Institute of Health website posted research on specific music therapy techniques to support social skill development for children and adolescents. The research was conducted at three separate sites and concluded that social management and peer relations skills were significantly improved for the children in the program. Read that study here.

¯ Builds trusting relationships – One of the key ingredients to achieving goals and objectives is to have a  consistent structure and a strong rapport between the   therapist and the students. As the mutual trust is developed, therapists can personalize goals and objectives for each student and address  individual needs within the group. Music therapy sessions are fun so children look forward to the weekly sessions and this can be used as a motivation to achieve goals outside of the music  therapy sessions as well.

¯ Improves language and communication skills – In May 2011, researchers in Australia published a study of a music therapy program for disabled children and their parents and found that language and communication skills were improved as were the non-verbal communication and parent/child bond. Click here for the link. The practice of Neurological Music Therapy is that the therapist looks at ways to involve each individual into the music making process and therefore increasing neural synapses throughout the brain. For more specific information about Neurologic Music Therapy check this website.

Music Therapy Supports classroom curriculum and IEP Goals¯ Supports educational curriculum Music   therapists are trained to learn a wide variety of music and use that knowledge to provide specific songs, dances and improvisational experiences that support thematic material and classroom curriculum. 
¯ Addresses IEP goals – Music therapy can address IEP goals in the group or individual setting and can be documented as a supportive service on the IEP.  Music Therapists use differentiated instruction techniques and a multi-sensory approach to address multiple goal areas in each music therapy session.
¯ Music Therapy as a Marketing Tool-Music therapy has been receiving a lot of media attention and parents are more aware of the benefits of music therapy as they are shopping for appropriate education placement. An article published in the Huffington Post in 2012 summarized research about music therapy with the ASD population and stated that music therapy was effective where other therapies were not and stated “So, the more music therapy the better for those with ASD!” Read that article here.
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Call Alison Bowers, MM, MT-BC


Rhythmic Entrainment in Music Therapy to Assist With Social Awareness part 4 of 4

Meghan is a 12 year old girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), She has words, but uses them to repeat lines from TV or movies, she plays with her stuffed animals and often times appears to be unaware of the world around her. Meghan didn’t participate in the music therapy groups when they first started in her facility. I would always greet her and ask her to join us but the teacher told me that she doesn’t participate in any group activities and it was one of her goals.

Group drumming supports neurological and physiological growthIn March I wrote a blog series called “Sensory Integration, Not Just for Autism Spectrum Disorders” in which I discussed the importance of using a multi-sensory approach in the music therapy group so that individual goals can be achieved in the group setting. This month I have written about the importance of “Rhythmic Entrainment, What is it and Why is it Important in Music Therapy?” “Rhythmic Entrainment for Motor Planning“,  and “Rhythmic Entrainment in Music Therapy to Assist in Language Development”. I discussed that I focus on the rhythmic aspects of the music to support neurological and physiological growth. These were the techniques I was using in Meghan’s class.

As the weeks went on, Meghan began to move closer to the group but still held onto her dolls and seemed to be unaware of her surroundings. I continued to observe her while leading the group and interacting with the other kids and I noticed that after about several weeks her dolls started dancing to the music and then each week, I noticed more and more involvement. One day, a staff member brought 2 chairs up and sat them behind the circle, she sat in one and had Meghan and her dolls sit in the other. At first she could only stay for the “Hello” song, but then she would leave the group and come back multiple times, participating in background but not as a part of the group. Finally Meghan began to feel more comfortable and stayed in the group longer and we began to move her closer to the group as well. She didn’t show interest in the books, visuals or movement activities, but she was interested in the instruments and would repeat the names, and began to request them but didn’t actually play them herself.  So the assistant would sit next to her and play the instruments and sing to model appropriate behavior. The assistant began to fade her assistance and Meghan stayed in the group with the instrument beside her and would sing to her dolls.  One day I looked over and Meghan was playing the guiro, she was holding correctly and playing it rhythmically with the group.  This story isn’t over as I still work with Meghan and have for the past two years. But now she is able to sit for most of the session, she still has her stuffed dolls and they play instruments with her. She is able to trade and share instruments with other kids in the group and she will even request songs if asked.

I have mentioned the multi-sensory approach that I use in my music therapy groups in many of my blogs. I provide a wide variety of sensory interventions using visuals, tactile objects (instruments) and movement so that each child can receive a variety of sensory input. In Meghan’s case it was the instrument playing that was the motivator for her, and when she did start to play, she was able to play rhythmically with the group. This was a signal to me that even though Meghan appeared disconnected and unaware at the beginning, she was still receiving the input on a neurological basis.

An adult may seem lost in their own world, but when I hand them an instrument and start singing a familiar song, they are able to come out for a while and be in the moment with the group.

An adult may seem lost in their own world, but when I hand them an instrument and start singing a familiar song, they are able to come out for a while and be in the moment with the group.

I have also seen this same phenomenon on the Memory Care units that I serve. An adult may seem lost in their own world, but when I hand them an instrument and start singing a familiar song, they are able to come out for a while and be in the moment with the group. Marilyn is one such client. She is very musical and hums to herself all day. During the sing-along activities she is able to sing most of the songs and can play the instruments appropriately. Marilyn is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and she cannot answer simple questions most of the time. In February, we were singing love songs for Valentine’s Day (of course) and Marilyn had been happily singing and playing so I looked at her and asked her what she did for Valentine’s Day as a child. She looked me in the eye and said “We made valentines out of paper and glue and lace doilies.” It was so great to be in that moment with her. Sadly, Marilyn hasn’t been able to respond appropriately since then, but she is still singing and playing instruments and I know that the music is working in her brain and in her body.

Music Therapists are not the only ones looking at the phenomenon of rhythmic entrainment in the brain. Scientists have found that rhythm and speech are so tied together that they have identified similar behavior in animals that have some speech capabilities such as parrots and dolphins. Check out the links below and come back to for my next blog. Until then, embrace your musical mind.

Rhythmic Entrainment in Music Therapy to Assist in Language Development part 3 of 4

In March I wrote a blog series called Sensory Integration Not Just for Autism Spectrum Disorders, in which I discussed a multi-sensory approach that includes visual, auditory and tactile interventions to provide support for individuals with sensory needs. This month I have been blogging about the importance of rhythmic entrainment techniques in music therapy as an integral part of the multi-sensory approach. In the first post, “What is Rhythmic Entrainment and Why is it Important in Music Therapy?”  I stated that Rhythmic Entrainment in music therapy is a specialized practice used to assist in helping people become more “in tune” to their own rhythm and the rhythms of the world around them.  Last week in the blog about the importance of “Rhythmic Entrainment for Motor PlanningI briefly mentioned that even those individuals that can’t move their bodies can still benefit from rhythmic entrainment techniques because the brain can still receive and respond to rhythmic stimulus even when the body cannot.

Become actively involved in the music making!The thing about the music therapy session is that you can address multiple goals and objectives at the same time! So while I am singing or chanting and playing or moving rhythmically with my clients, I am addressing motor development (or rehabilitation), cognition, language development and social skills simultaneously. The how and why of this comes back to how the brain responds to music; “All music therapy goal-directed activity is aimed first and foremost at enhancing the functioning capacity of each client’s brain” (Taylor, 1997 p. 14). So when my clients are actively involved in the music making process, the entire brain is working. We cannot tell one part of the brain to wait because we only want to activate the language centers right now, and then tell the language centers to stop while we address motor ability. Even if that were possible it would defeat the purpose of a holistic approach to therapy that is inherent in music therapy.

There are many different languages, spoken, signed and body language are used throughout the world. We need an effective method of communication or our needs may not be met. Babies cry when they are hungry, sick or need to be changed. Communication develops as the child develops so language development becomes a very important goal in music therapy.  Also language has rhythm already built into the way we speak and our emphasis and inflections.

I use many techniques for language development in my music therapy groups. Last week I described the way I use the “HiDa” song with maracas as a basic beginning rhythmic entrainment technique. This song is also great for early language learners because the words, while they don’t really mean anything, have 4 syllables that are easy to pronounce. With older kids and adults that are in rehab, I use similar techniques but the music is age appropriate and the presentation is different.

Singing books to support language and literacy goals

The multi-sensory approach that I use in my music therapy sessions includes not only singing, dancing and instrument play, but also includes singing books. (click here to reathe blog “The importance of pictures in music therapy”) There are many children’s books out there in the big world and I have an extensive bibliography of books that I use in my music therapy practice. I choose books based on subject content but also based on rhythm and rhyme. Some of the books are as simple as the “Brown Bear” series by Bill Martin, Jr., which I sing with a simple 3 note melody. Others I may chant while having the kids pat to the beat. I have 6 books that I created music sound tracks, a repetitive chorus and sign language. The children love these activities and request them every week. I will be sharing more about these books and how I use them in upcoming blogs. 

Next week I will be posting about how rhythmic entrainment techniques can lead to social awareness.

SENSORY INTEGRATION – Not Just for Autism Spectrum Disorders – part 3 of a 4 part series.

Part 3 –Music Therapy Interventions for Children with Sensory Processing Disorders

Two weeks ago, I posted my definition of Sensory Processing Dysfunction (click here to read that post) and last week I posted about some of the ways that children exhibit sensory processing issues (click here to read that post). This post will talk about some music therapy interventions that provide the sensory input that these children need.

When I first began working as a music therapist, I was working with children providing individual music therapy sessions in the child’s home. While a great majority of the children I worked with were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I also worked with children that had Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays. In the 1:1 environment with a young child, I provided a regimen based on “the sensory diet” used by many Occupational Therapists. This was a program using deep pressure and joint compressions starting at the top of the head and working down the body. After all the compressions had been done, we would then jump up and down 10 times and do some nice squeezing (hugging) as needed. And because it is music therapy, we are singing songs, of course. By providing the deep pressure and joint compression at the beginning of the session, the child was then able to focus on other musical tasks. For many of the kids,

 the process needed to be repeated at intervals during the session. Ideally the child would learn how to calm himself and focus longer on tasks over time.

It is much more difficult to address individual sensory processing needs in the group setting, but it can be done. Although the goals for music therapy groups are generally written for the entire group and therefore oftentimes are geared toward social and educational goals, individual goals can be incorporated in the music therapy group by offering a wide variety of sensory experiences.

Auditory sensitivity issues are addressed in the music therapy group by building trust with the child. The first time I do a group, I let each child strum my guitar during the “Hello” song. It is a safe environment, a child that is afraid may need assurance that he only needs 1 finger or he may need hand over hand assistance. If a child is unable or unwilling to touch the guitar, they are given the option of putting their hand on top of mine while I play, to just listen or to be given a turn to try again after the other children have played. After about 2 weeks, I begin using different types of

perrcussion instruments during the hello song. Each week I bring something new that each child can play and then that instrument is incorporated into our group playing. In this way they understand what each instrument sounds and feels like individually and therefore it is less daunting during the rhythm band time. Children are never forced to play an instrument and a child with multiple sensory processing issues may not be able to stay for the whole music therapy group, or need more proximal space to be able to tolerate the sounds. Over time the child is encouraged to move closer to the group and participate for longer periods of time. Because the music therapy group and all the instruments and activities are very motivating, I have had some of the most auditorily sensitive children prefer the loudest instrument. The big gathering drum is 18” tall and 22” in diameter. It has a deep bass tone and a lot of vibrational input for sensory needy people.

Tactile sensitivity issues are also addressed by introducing the instruments as described above because the instruments themselves have different textures. The cabassa is a cylindrical instrument with beads around the perimeter. It comes in different sizes but I prefer the large one for those that need tactile input because it is heavier so provides more weight in the hands, some kids are encouraged to rub it on their legs or feet as needed. The guiro is another excellent instrument for tactile input it comes in a variety of shapes but I generally use the tradition latin “fish shaped” guiro. It is a wooden rasp that is scraped with a stick so it provides both tactile and proprioceptive input.Josh plays the CabassaThe music therapy group setting is a perfect environment for children needing proprioceptive input. Dance and movement games are great to incorporate during the group. The school music therapy group setting is a perfect place for those children that need to rock, sway and move during the music.

What are your favorite interventions for sensory processing issues? Please put your comments and questions below. Come back next week when I will discuss Sensory Integration techniques for adults in the music therapy group.

Click here to continue to the next post.

How do you put a value on something?


Car manufacturers look at the cost of parts, manufacturing, distribution, commissions for sellers, cost of running a dealership and probably thirty other factors all to determine the price of their car. Car brands add value as well as reputation and history. A Mercedes Benz is much more expensive than a Ford, and the buyer can chose to pay for the vehicle he wants.
But what if the item in question is different? What if it isn’t a tangible object? What if it is a service? Okay, so the yard guy comes and mows and trims for an hour each month, I can see the results of the work he has done so that must be a tangible service. How about a service that can impact the quality of an individual’s life for years to come? Well, that seems to me like an important and necessary service and I would expect to pay more for that then I pay for landscaping.
The news is out, people! MUSIC THERAPY WORKS! Each day there are more news stories about music therapy in NICU (neonatal intensive care units), hospitals, schools, long-term care facilities, mental health, and hospice. I have had the blessing of facilitating music therapy sessions where the client met important and life-changing goals and I have devoted my life to providing this important service. And yet when it comes to negotiating contracts, I tend to negotiate in the wrong direction despite my knowledge of the benefits of music therapy.
Over the last few weeks, I have been discussing wages and prices with my colleagues. Why am I so willing to lower my rates? The primary reason is that I love music therapy. Anything else is work so I want to do more music therapy. And when I see the impact on the individuals I serve, I truly feel as if I have received a bonus. However, you can’t pay the mortgage with the hugs you receive. Instead, we worked backwards. What is a monthly budget that would be comfortable and include things like health insurance and retirement? Take that, divided by a reasonable amount of contact hours and our prices are determined. So now, as much as I would like to see everyone receiving music therapy, I won’t undersell just to make the group happen.
How do you determine the value of the services you provide? Or how do you value the services you procure?

Music Therapists Do More Than Sing

“Any place a social worker might work, it may be possible to find a music therapist there.”

by @andybotpgh

Michelle Montgomery Muth demonstrates a music-therapy drumming exercise, with an assist from the photographer's nephew, Sebastian Mull.Photo by Heather MullMichelle Montgomery Muth demonstrates a music-therapy drumming exercise, with an assist from the photographer’s nephew, Sebastian Mull.

Michelle Montgomery Muth took the long way from her hometown of St. Paul, Minn., to Pittsburgh. The Center Township resident went to college in Boston and got a degree in piano — then took several marketing jobs in Boston and Seattle, while performing on the side. But it was only after moving to Pittsburgh that she settled into what she’d come to find was her calling: music therapy.

“What I really loved was music, and working with children. So I went back to school at Slippery Rock,” one of three nearby universities that offer programs in music therapy. (Seton Hill, in Greensburg, and Duquesne University are the other two.) “Sometimes it takes us a while to find what our place is, but I found my place.”

Music Therapy and the Military

It was very fitting that between Veterans’ Day, when we recognize our veterans and all they have done for our country, and Thanksgiving, when we show our gratitude for so many and for so much, the creation of a music therapy program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) was announced. What an appropriate way to honor and provide assistance to those who serve our country!

This expansion of the landmark partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Department of Defense was discussed at a recent media teleconference. NEA chair Rocco Landesman mentioned that Walter Reed is the first “point of care in the U.S. for the wounded, ill and injured from global conflicts” and that many troops are now returning with traumatic brain injury and psychological health issues, “complex diagnoses that call for a new level of care.”

American Idol & Music Therapy

Kree Harrison, a finalist on American Idol visits a Los Angeles hospital and learns about music therapy.