The Journal of Educational Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, has studied the use of music therapy in situations with children who have special needs in detail. According to the journal, music therapy aims to improve one’s psychological functioning through the use of musical experiences.
It is a creative art therapy that “crosses multiple areas of treatment and can be effective in facilitating development in numerous areas of children’s functioning.”
Research conducted by the association in neurological functioning supports the association between music and emotion. Music is said to provide a form of compensation for those with language impairments and helps in facilitating language development. Therefore, it can be used in a clinical treatment for children with a range of disabilities and a variety of needs.
The journal states that in group sessions, the ideal number of participants is four to eight, with the children seated in a circle. Children find music enjoyable and are generally eager to participate in musical activities.
Some of the many ways that music therapy can support the education of children with disabilities are in the areas of cogni-
tive development. Songs can be used to memorise sequences or categorical structures, such as a song about farm animals or colours. This can also help facilitate associational learning, for example when a song suggests that a cow makes a ‘moo’ sound. There are also songs that help children connect a particular sound with a particular body movement, such as clapping their hands. The association clearly states that utilising the inherent structure in songs can reinforce a sense of internal order in the child.
The group setting in music therapy is ideal for facilitating socialisation and interpersonal interactions. When members of a group listen to and play music together, they are united by a common beat, which contributes to group cohesion.
The most important example in this instance is children with autism. This disability is characterised by severe impairments in social and verbal functioning. In many cases, music therapy is highly effective. Some children with autism respond to music, are extremely motivated by it and exhibit an unusually creative aptitude for it.
The capacity of music to relax and motivate is also relevant to physical development and remediation, the study has shown. For example, a child with limitations in hand and arm movements can be motivated enough, by music, to try and reach for an instrument at a strategically placed distance, thus increasing extension.