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Music therapy is a well-established professional health discipline that uses music as the therapeutic stimulus to achieve non-musical treatment goals. In special education and settings serving disabled persons, music therapists utilize music as an educational related service to promote learning and skill acquisition.
Research supports connections between speech and singing, rhythm and motor behavior, memory for song and memory for academic material, and overall ability of preferred music to enhance mood, attention, and behavior to optimize the student’s ability to learn and interact. Rhythmic movement helps develop gross motor skills (mobility, agility, balance, coordination) as well as respiration patterns and muscular relaxation. Because music is reinforcing, it can be used to motivate movements or structure exercises that are prescribed in physical rehabilitation. Involvement in music may provide a distraction from the pain, discomfort, and anxiety often associated with some physical disabilities.
Music is processed by a different area of the brain than speech and language; hence, a child may be able to more easily absorb information and skills presented with music. Therefore, one of the purposes of music therapy for persons with disabilities is to provide the student with an initial assist using melodic and rhythmic strategies, followed by fading of musical cues to aid in generalization and transfer to other learning environments.
Recognized as a related service, music therapy serves as an integral component in helping the disabled student attain educational goals identified by his/her IEP team,* either through direct or consultant services.
Music therapy sessions are documented in a treatment plan and delivered in accordance with standards of practice. Music selections and certain active music- making activities are modified for client preferences and individualized needs. Toolkits are available via AMTA and publications.
* The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. §1400, provides that eligible children and youth with disabilities shall receive special education and related services. The law includes a definition of related services that the U.S. Department of Education notes is not exhaustive. In addition, in June 2010, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Questions and Answers document on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Evaluations, and Reevaluations. This document provides guidance representing the interpretation of the Department and clarifies the recognition of music therapy as a related service under IDEA.
Improved cognitive functioning
Successful and safe self-expression
Enhanced auditory processing
Improved receptive/expressive language
Enhanced sensory-motor skills
--Text courtesy of the American Music Therapy Association
See Resources and Bibliography for a complete list of studies relating to music therapy and special education.
For more information on music therapy with a specific diagnoses, see Music Therapy and Autism or Music Therapy and Young Children.