5 Reasons Why Music Helps Children with Special Needs
We all know how powerful music can be in our own lives and in the lives of our children, but why is music so compelling and captivating? What exactly is it about music that makes it a great way to connect with and help children with special needs? Let’s take a look.
1. Music MotivatesFinding ways to motivate children to work on challenging tasks or skills can be difficult. Music tends to be one of the top motivators for children with special needs so you can use this to your advantage by doing the following:
- Use captivating instruments to prompt a child to make requests, i.e. holding out a drum and waiting for them to communicate, “I want the drum”
- Use different instruments to encourage the development of motor skills
- Sing a song during a challenging activity so a child is more willing to work through it
2. Music is a Multi-Sensory ExperiencePicture a child hitting a drum with a mallet. On the surface level most people would just see a kid playing a drum but hold on, there is so much more going on. Let’s break it down.
- Their tactile system is engaged because they are feeling the mallet in their hand
- Their kinesthetic system in engaged as they move their wrist and arm to strike the drum
- Their auditory system is engaged as they listen to the sound of the drum
- Their visual system is engaged as their eyes track the motion of their arm and the mallet in their hand
3. Music is Processed in Both Hemispheres of the BrainA classic line often heard is “oh yeah, music is sooooo powerful because it is processed in the right side of the brain!” Well yeah, that’s true, but it’s only half of the story. The remarkable thing about music is that it’s processed in many regions of the brain simultaneously. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music shows that when making music, the sensory cortex, auditory cortex, hippocampus, visual cortex, cerebellum, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and motor cortex are all firing at once. Amazing! This relates to the multi-sensory experience of making music because each of these sensory systems is tied into a specific part of the brain.
4. Music is Non-verbalHans Christian Anderson once said, “where words fail, music speaks.” For many of the children I work with, words fail them daily. Either they can’t get the words out or can’t process the words coming in. I always think about how maddening it must be to have limited speech skills and yet get bombarded by speech and words all day long. The only personal experience I can relate this to is when my wife and I had our rental scooter stolen during our first day in Venezuela. We desperately tried to communicate with locals and police officers, but as their words sprayed out of their mouths like machine-gun fire, we felt confused, frustrated and helpless. We just couldn’t understand each other. I often reflect upon this experience when I make music with a child who is non-verbal. When we connect with each other and express ourselves without words, it feels more powerful and effective than spoken language. I can’t help but think that this type of therapy and interaction is a huge relief for them.
5. Music Helps You BondMusic is a rich and beautiful way to connect with your child and deepen your bond. Mothers have known this for centuries and now the science is showing us that Oxytocin, known as the “bonding” or “cuddle” hormone, is released when listening to and making music. Some musical ways that you can bond with your child include:
- Getting into a routine of singing to your child throughout the day
- Moving and dancing with them to their favorite recorded music
- Using simple instruments such as rhythm sticks to create your own music or to jam along to some recorded music