Can Music Therapy help my child with Cerebral Palsy?

"Music is the medicine of the mind" --John A Logan

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is the use of music to attain non-musical goals.  Where a physical therapist will use balls and bars, I use music as my tool to facilitate change.  The goals reached through MT are typically social, physical, or cognitive.

Research in Music Therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas: physical rehabilitation, facilitating movement, increasing motivation and engagement in treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an expressive outlet.

Why is Music Therapy especially therapeutic
for children with cerebral palsy?

Music is a very basic human response, spanning all degrees of ability. Music therapists are able to meet a client wherever he is and help him to grow from there.

Although cerebral palsy by definition affects motor skills, it is often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, cognition, communication, perception, and behavior and seizure disorders – all of which may arise from different areas of the brain. Music bridges and enhances cross-brain connections, making music therapy especially effective in reaching these children. 

What goals can my child meet through Music Therapy?

Music therapy can be effective in addressing many typical characteristics of cerebral palsy. 

I worked with a young man with severe cerebral palsy, who was unable to move his limbs very much, but beat a drum during his music therapy sessions with me.  His mother and I both noticed the complete joy he had in this experience.  For a teenager who is cognitively high functioning, but physically very low functioning, this was a beautiful way for him to engage in a musical encounter. 

Physical Goals:
  • Coordination - The structure and repetition of music can be used to develop a child's coordination across muscle groups or between hands and eyes.
  • Walking -  activities exist to help smooth children's gait through practice and understanding of rhythm.
  • Gross motor skills - Children can develop their gross motor skills through dance and large, child-friendly drums and other percussion instruments.
  • Fine motor skills - Children can develop finer control and timing playing more complicated instruments, including tambourines, finger cymbals, and guitar.
Verbal and Expressive Goals:
  • Fluency - Rhythm-based techniques have shown to be successful in treating fluency and rate of speech by providing a structured and predictable foundation for verbal responses.
  • Loudness - Vocal exercises can help to remediate unusual loudness, breathing and pitch when speaking.
  • Self expression - Music therapy can enable those without language to communicate, participate and express themselves non-verbally.
Social Goals:
  • Increase attention spanMusic is highly engaging and motivating and may be used as a natural reinforcer for desired responses.
  • Interpersonal timing and reciprocity - Music Therapy accommodates and addresses the client's style of communication through shared play, turn-taking, listening and responding to another person.
  • Build confidence to attempt new tasks - Music therapy provides an opportunity for clients to experience success in their areas of strength, while musical structure provides a predictable but malleable framework to build toward new objectives.

Family Goals:
An individual’s growth through music therapy can improve the quality of life for the whole family.

  • Behavioral skills - Music therapy can address goals of reducing "bad" behavior, promoting social norms, and providing an acceptable emotional outletThis can help reduce stress and strain on other family members.  
  • Family involvement - The shared, equalizing experience of making music together can improve family cohesiveness, support, and coping skills.  Family members can also experience alternative ways to interact, socialize, and communicate with their loved ones. 
  • See your child in a "different light" - Participation in music therapy often allows family members to witness their child’s strengths, providing hope for the future and belief in the individual’s abilities.

Relaxation and Quality of Life:

Relaxation - Music therapy can address goals of relaxation, helping a client learn techniques to use at home.  This can help a client with cerebral palsy to sleep better, relax limbs, give pain relief and enjoy a higher quality of life. 

Quality of Life - Making music, music listening, socializing through music, reminiscing, song writing, and so many more goals, allow a patient to have a higher quality of life that is not available without musical stimulation. 

How can I get started?

When you're ready, you can contact me to set up an appointment.  Typically our first meeting is a no-cost consultation where we discuss your child's condition, the goals you'd like him or her to pursue through music therapy, and get a sense for who I am as a therapist.

If you're not ready to call yet, I've compiled much more information about Music Therapy that you can review from the navigation bar on the left.  I'd recommend starting with What to Expect from a Music Therapist.

Is There Research to Support Music Therapy for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy?

Yes!  You can find extensive research through peer-reviewed journals. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) maintains a research bibliography of select articles and publications for those interested in specific research examples.  There are also two peer-reviewed journals within the profession: the Journal of Music Therapy, and Music Therapy Perspectives