Is Music Therapeutic? Know the Benefits for your Child with Special Needs

With or without musical talent, your special child can benefit from music therapy. I should know. Pangga, my sister with Down syndrome who passed away a few years back, loved to sing. She had a good voice. She could follow the notes and the rhythm to the beat.  Because Pangga never learned how to read, she memorized the songs’ lyrics just by listening over the radio, hearing other people sing or watching television. There were of course funny twists to the lyrics. So, you may ask yourself, ” Is music therapeutic?  Are there benefits at all for my child with special needs? 

Pangga taught herself to be jolly by singing. Music definitely was therapeutic for her.  Even at late nights when she couldn’t sleep ( she slept all day, that’s why ) she would belt out a song to the annoyance of whoever is awakened by her rendition. Funny eh?

You, as parents of children with special needs,  know very well that your kids struggle with focusing and learning to express themselves clearly. You might have heard that music therapy can help your child in this aspect.

Want to learn how?  Read on.

What is music therapy? 

Music therapy is a creative arts therapy – it involves a process used by music therapists to help clients improve their physical and mental health.

Furthermore, music therapy encompasses the skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to help and improve not only the mental and physical health but also the  emotional and spiritual health of a person. 

 For our children with special needs, music therapy improves their focus,  engagement, communication, and even their mood.

Music therapy has been used way, way back, even in  biblical times to affect human emotion. David’s harp music soothed King Saul. Several cultures, like the ancient Greeks used music for healing.

Veterans Administration hospitals following World War II  recognized that music helps their patients, so it was acknowledged as a complementary healing practice. Musicians were continuously hired at the hospitals from then on.

In the hospital where I work, I’ve been seeing musicians, like guitarists or a violinist play their thing at a corner of our institution almost everyday. 

Benefits of music therapy

This video shows how Ryan Judd, a music therapist, teaches his clients, all with special needs, on how to focus, improve communication and a lot more.

Here are the many benefits of music therapy to children with special needs:

  • Music therapy motivates communication. Even if they are non-verbal or cannot express themselves well, the special kids’ facial expressions and their big smiles or laughter say it all. 
  • Music therapy makes the body move and may cause bouts of laughter. That means that the child enjoys the music and the encounter with the therapist. They learn to dance with the music.
  • Music empowers.The kids become proud and fulfilled that they are able to learn something to share.
  • Music therapy helps address academic concepts and speech goals. The kids learn more vocabulary and even how to connect with people around them.
  • Music therapy rewards communication. The kids learn how to express themselves.
  • It re-directs and engages. This is really helpful for kids who have meltdowns.
  • Music therapy inspires and leads to social connection. Again, these special kids enhance their capability to open up to people especially to their families.
  • It honors and enlivens a child’s spirit. Kids are uplifted and become jolly because of music. Just like Pangga, my sister, who taught herself to be happy by singing to her heart’s content, anyday, anytime.
  • By playing the musical instruments, your child’s gross and fine motor skills are enhanced. 

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The music therapist

Look for a music therapist who can teach your child how to engage, enjoy music and improve his well-being through music.

Let us learn from Benji, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at  2 1/2 years and eventually learned how to communicate and able to cope with school, with a big help from his music therapists.

Characteristics of a good music therapist:

  •  Patient and sensitive
  •  Engaging
  • Loves music, can sing and  play a musical instrument
  • Understands the needs of his client 
  •  Loves being with children
  • Passionate and dedicated to his craft

Musical instruments-your special child’s favorite

Pangga loved the harmonica;  she enjoyed playing with it daily. You would see her smiling wide when she holds it and blows air to make music out of  this tiny but awesome musical instrument. 

The harmonica  lets the special child focus and be attentive while he is trying to produce music. The music per se, gives him joy and calms his nerves.

It is so fulfilling for your special child to learn that it’s so easy to make his favorite musical instrument work and produce musical notes on his own. He can control it, make his music soft or loud, long or short, happy or sad.

Any musical instrument has the capacity to engage your special child. Observe your child while with his therapist, and see which is his favorite so you may decide to buy for him to play in your home. 

Begin or continue music therapy at home

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As always, our homes are the first point of learning for our children with special needs.  Thus, music therapy should begin at home or continue if your child is with a music therapist already. 

It should be easy to do it. 

Fill your home with music.

Always turn on your radio or television to musical channels. This way, your child and the whole family will always be in a jolly mood. With less stress and more smiles and laughter around. 

Or if you have a stereo or DVD player, it’s good to buy music like this to help with the anxiety of your special kid and to uplift his mood on a daily basis. 

For younger kids, the Nursery Rhymes  would encourage them to dance and improve their language skills. 

Buy musical instruments and let the whole family play their choice, even your special kid.

Just like Pangga with her harmonica. Click the image to see the price.       

Is music therapeutic, harmonica       

 Is music therapeutic, Drum set to improve gross motor skills             

Is music therapeutic, maracas

Is music therapeutic, kid's guitar

Your home will always be set in a joyful mood if your child with special needs learn to play even just one musical instrument. 

Just tapping on the piano randomly will bring out simple music that he will enjoy. Or blowing on the harmonica will surely let him have a wide smile and laughter.

When you constantly engage with your child and participate in his music, you will form strong bonding relationship and in time, his communication skills will be enhanced.

Enjoy music with your special kid. It’s never too late to start.

Most importantly, enroll him in a music therapy class and reap the awesome benefits.

 

Originally published: October 8, 2018          Updated: June 15, 2020

Have you enrolled your special child in a music therapy class? If so, how is he doing? If not, go find the best music therapist in your area and enroll him now!

 

 

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52 thoughts on “Is Music Therapeutic? Know the Benefits for your Child with Special Needs”

  1. What a lovely post..this post really resonated with me because I love music. It is the key to almost every good in life. 

    The fact that kids who can’t read the words, like your sister is really a wonderful thing. Music for me as always help me go through tough times.

    it really opens doors for people that have children with special needs.  Music is the key to the soul, I must say..

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Indeed, music is for everyone and it is specially so helpful for our kids with special needs.

      Thanks for your nice words.

      Marita

      Reply
  2. Yeah, music is life, that’s the popular saying by experts. I’m a great fan of music and I can recall in 2015 I have a cousin with special needs who came to visit during Christmas. I wanted to make him happy, so all I did was get a good song that I believe he will love and started downloading. Finally, he became smart than before and he wanted to do all of my move. 

    Thanks for sharing this great article here with us 

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience with your cousin with special needs. For sure, you both love music and it was something that you both enjoy.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  3. Nice article. I never saw music this way. People actually need to know more about the importance of music and how therapeutic it can be, so they can introduce it to their children.

    I enjoy reading your stories about Pangga. 

    Personally, music has helped me during tough times, i just want to be left alone with my music; I think better that way.

    Reply
    • Yes, music is so helpful for us to relax and unwind. 

      For our special kids, it is therapeutic and helps with their anxiety and mood;  as well helps them focus and develop their communication and social skills.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  4. Hey there ….thanks a lot for this article ….I really enjoyed going through it …..music is the greatest creation of man kind ….it is an important part of our life, as it is a way of expressing our feelings and emotions…it’s a way to escape from the pains of life. 

    Music is indeed therapeutic. Music tends to bring long lasting benefit to one’s state of mind even after you have stopped listening.

    Thanks for sharing this .

    Reply
    • Very well said. Music really stirs lots of emotion in us- we can be happy, sad, relaxed, comforted, and a lot more.

      Thanks for passing by.

      Marita

      Reply
  5. I personally think that music is great for everyone and that goes for the child with special needs as well. As long as he/she doesn’t have the hearing impairment.

    My older sister also has Down syndrome and unfortunately she is mute and deaf. I wish this therapy can be for her. However, she loves coloring, even though she sometimes gets antsy from it. 

    That is amazing that Pangga learned to lose some steam by singing all by herself!

    I wish my sister can enjoy these tools. Anyway, I will share your post to my friends who have some special needs people in their homes. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sorry about your sister. Would a hearing aid be helpful for her?

      Good that she is into coloring, it’s also a good way for her to relax and to focus. I’m sure she would love to do it with you or any member of your family for her to be inspired.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  6. They say that  music calms the savage beast… While I would not refer to the people that I have worked with special needs as being “savage beasts,” I do know from experience that music has a way to help them calm down if they need calming. After using music for many years, I have even had some of my people ask for music. To me, that is the proof that music therapy works because they know it works.

    I had never thought about using a harmonica, but that makes a lot of sense because it can meet several desires, including making the sounds themselves as well as stimulating their minds and mouths to produce their own music.

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Hi Karin,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with music in your service with special needs people. 

      Truly everyone can feel relaxed and calm with music.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  7. Marita,

    I am so sorry for the loss of your sister but what a beautiful website you have created to memorialize her! 

    While my child has no special needs I would like to share just how important music has been to her development as well.  She is only 2 but is incredible smart and advanced and I attribute that to music!  We have been enrolled in infant music classes since she only 6 months old and they started off with colors and shapes and have moved onto the alphabet and numbers.  She was able to both walk and talk before a year of age and at 2 1/2 is very clearly understood. 

    I don’t think without music she would be this far advanced.  We also listen to music everyday at our house and have mommy/daughter dance time!  I truly believe that music and dance can totally change a person’s mood!  

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with music!

    KARA  

    Reply
    • Hi Kara,

      Wow! What a nice way to care for your child from early on, with music classes. I’m sure that contributed a lot why she developed really early.

      I bet your daughter will grow up and feel so much loved and supported.

      Thanks for the appreciation.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  8. There is just so much impact music has on human life and existence, right from the time of creation till date. From experience I have seen people get healed through the effect of music. I am of the opinion that music works with the human brain, soul and spirit, and when the soul unites with the spirit there is harmony which brings all round healing.

    Music is absolutely therapeutic and the healing effects cannot be overemphasized. Children with special needs must be provided with music therapist to help bring out the best in them, create a happy mood and happy environment for them to learn and improve in themselves. Especially, they should be provided with musical instrument of their choice to play with.as this will help to uplift their emotions, their spirit and it will give them joy.

    Reply
  9. This article truly touches my heart and soul. Music is a powerful tool that helps many of us in everyday life. It’s amazing how therapeutic for special need kids. I love reading your story about how Pangga loved playing the harmonica. After reading this article I hope people really take this and learn what a difference music can bring joy and happiness in the lives of special need children across the world.

    Reply
    • Hi Anthony,

      The harmonica has a very special role in our family because it was Pangga’s favorite musical instrument.  Playing it really brightened up her day, ours as well.

      I really hope my post will inspire the parents of our special needs kids to enroll their kids to  music therapy classes.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  10. Hello there,

    Your post really resonated with me, because I believe music is the key to almost everything good in life. The fact that kids who can’t even read the words, like your sister, is really a wonderful thing.

    Music for me, has always helped me get through the tough times. With your post, it will really open doors for people that have children with special needs. Music is the key to your soul, I say.

    I think that your post will really give people an outlet for their child, that they may never even thought of before.

    Great job!

    Reply
    • Thanks Coralie for the appreciation.

      Definitely, music uplifts everyone’s soul, moreso with our special kids.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  11. I love this article, music is truly a powerful tool in many aspects and I have always known that there are many beneficial effects when it comes to music. Some people use music to stimulate their creativity, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit that it has many benefits for special needs children. Is there a particular age when something like this should be started?

    Reply
    • Truly music improves focus and enhances communication skills of kids with special needs.

      For everyone, it sparks creativity and helps relieve stress and anxiety.

      I believe as early as you can, music will be helpful. I read somewhere that music therapists are actually hired to help sick babies in the ICU.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  12. Hello,

    Music is definitely, therapeutic for kids with special needs as it is for anyone. The videos on your post show that when the music is played to them they want to join in and play. I can see that repeated playing will increase their interest. 

    Playing music is like playing a video game and a special needs child could play an instrument if encouraged and with some helpful coaching (accredited musical therapist). 

    I also play harmonica which is easily learned, but perfecting it and playing at the level you want takes time and practice.

    There is no way we could live without music. 

    Thank you for making us aware of the power of musical therapy for the special needs. 

    Reply
    • Hi Jimmy,

      We all enjoy music, moreso for children with special needs, they not only enjoy listening to it  but learn to focus as well and enhance their communication skills.

      Life without music would be boring and sad.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  13. What I know about working with children and adults with special needs is second hand.  My daughter is a drama therapist and director of a center that provides daytime activities for people with special needs. 

    From her conversations regarding her work, first of all we can see how much she loves it.  She shares about how the drama therapy they provide is therapeutic and helpful in keeping people involved and focused on something outside of themselves. She explained that music always plays a big part in what they do.  

    There had been some excitement in the room between a counselor an a special needs person.  Each guest or student in was asked to stand on their feet and sing along with a song they had learned. Singing that song calmed the room down and put everyone back in a better mood.

    If we are honest with ourselves, we know that music makes us happy and changes our moods. I hope those with special needs can do the same.

    Great post to shine light on the needs of this special group.

    Please remember to encourage someone today!

    Vanna Pearl   

    Reply
    • Hi Vanna Pearl,

      Glad to know that your daughter as a drama therapist enjoys her job. By doing so, she is able to attain easily  the goals of her therapy to her clients, in which music is definitely part of it.

      Of course music brings joy to everyone and improves our mood, even for children with special needs.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  14. Great stuff here. One of my best friends is special and is one of the brightest people I know. I am constantly amazed by how his mind works.

    When he could learn at his own pace and ask questions he would absorb the info like a sponge. It was just so hard for him to keep up with groups of people because their minds would constantly received and think about 100 different things at once. 

    He told me that music is his life because there is no lieing of pretending in it. I was confused so I asked what he meant. He told me, ” Your mind races and constantly changes direction. It is never still. Music is still. Once it is created there is no changing so I can follow along.”

    That one talk really changed my whole perspective. I saw him in a new light. I always thought highly of him but after that I really felt like I KNEW him . Thank you so much for getting this message out there. I think it will help alot of people…

    Reply
    • Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for sharing about your special friend’s love of music. It is truly therapeutic for him. He learns to focus and think clearly when he listens to the songs.

      Special people think much different than us and it’s so comforting to know that music stabilizes their thinking.

      Glad you realized that you know better your friend now through how he is affected by music.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  15. Music has huge benefits for all of us and especially children with special needs and people with dementia. Also playing musical instruments is fun and great for mental stimulation. Also listening to music is good for relaxing, when you are stressed out. It was great that music brought so much joy to Pangga. Thank you for talking about a really important topic. 

    Reply
    • Hi Eden,

      This topic is really close to my heart because music was a great part of Pangga’s everyday life. We would often be amused when she starts singing. I guess it is therapeutic  not only to her but to us as well. We feel the joy and the calmness that it brings to our house whenever we hear her sing.

      Playing any musical instrument is of course fun and relaxes our tired minds. It also transports us to a world of something magical.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  16. Thanks for the informative and useful post! Since Pangga never learned how to read but only memorized the songs’ lyrics just by listening to the radio, watching the television, or hearing other people sing, it means she was good at emulating others or learning by emulation. How I wish she could stay back to continue leveraging her special music talent!

    Literally, music is therapeutic and can help kids with special needs overcome their inadequacies. Kudos to you for stating the characteristics of a good music therapist! Particularly, I’ve personally observed that a good music therapist will always love to sing and play musical instruments.

    Israel Olatunji

    Reply
    • Hi Israel,

      Pangga will always be our angel and her singing will always be etched in our hearts. 

      I can certainly see her wide smile  everyday as if she still sings with us and laughs for no reason at all. Though she passed away and left us, her memory and angelic voice will always bring us joy and calmness in any circumstance.

      A good musical therapist  definitely has to love music, know how to sing, and play a musical instrument so he can deliver his job well and touch his clients, as well teach them how to focus and be more expressive. 

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Marita

      Reply
  17. Since I come from a family of musicians, went to a music highschool and used to play the Violin and the Piano for a long period of time, I know how music can affect a human’s brain activities. Not just humans, even animals are affected by music. And playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to have a positive impact on the human brain as well as ones emotions. Especially special needs children can benefit from music and its therapeutic effects. Music means love and passion and I absolutely believe in the fact that these kids develop much better. Great article!

    Reply
    • Wow, your household must always be in a joyful mood with a family of musicians. Even for yourself, I assume when you are stressed you just play the piano or the violin and voila, your mood changes positively.

      Likewise, special needs children do appreciate and learn that music enhances and enlightens their minds, thus they become more focused and attentive.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  18. Music is also great therapy for everyone, it can brighten the day in the most positive way.  Our family has a member who is unwell and that member of our family is greatly uplifted by the sound of music each day. 

    Thank you for this very inspiring article and i would definitely say, YES, music is therapeutic.

    Reply
    • Hi Dianne,

      Music is for everyone. It is a universal thing that anyone benefits from.

      Our children with special needs really thrive well with a musical therapist as well. 

      Sorry about your family member who is unwell. Glad to know that music is therapeutic for him.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  19. I think music can be therapeutic for anyone, especially children with special needs. I like how you break it down by saying exactly what music therapy is and how it benefits and improves children with special needs. I now know what to look for in a music therapist as I certainly believe that they need to have patience and endurance, loves being around children, is passionate, and even play a musical instrument all of which you mentioned. Where is the best place online to search for a music therapist in your area?

    Reply
    • Hi Brian,

      Music can be therapeutic for everyone. Personally, I enjoy humming a tune all the time. it relaxes me and uplifts me. I’m sure anyone who does that feels the same as well.

      I would just search in google for any suggestion on where to find a music therapist if I need one. Maybe asking friends would be a good option as well, especially friends whom you know play any musical instrument or love singing.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  20. Hey there! Thanks so much for this information! I was just talking to a friend who’s child is having communication problems. I hadn’t thought about it but it makes sense that music can help. I will definitely be forwarding your site because so that she might be able to use music to help her son.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Marlinda

    Reply
    • Hi Marlinda,

      Your friend’s child will surely benefit from music therapy. Does he have other concerns or special needs? He might need to be assessed as well by a Developmental Pediatrician, if not yet been seen.

      Thanks for planning to refer your friend to my site. I hope my posts will be helpful to her.

      God bless,

      Marita 

      Reply
  21. As a former Geriatric Nurse I had the opportunity to work with special needs adults, including down syndrome and I certainly can agree that Music is healing.

    I don’t know much about children with special needs but I can say that music therapy also can apply to adults as well.

    I remember one elderly man who was in a deep dementia stage and barely interacted with anyone only sitting on his favorite chair day in and out. We, the stuff, tried many things with him to get him out off his inner shell. Nothing seems to help.

    We had a music therapist coming to another patient and I could see the positive impact each time she was with this patient. I asked her if she would like to play to this man where we had tried so many things to get him out off his “closed in” stage.

    She agreed and to make a long story short over a few times she came to volunteer, her musical approach made a difference.

    This patient opened it’s eyes every time she started playing her instrument, a flute. She also played the violin and we discovered this was the alternate instrument which got this man really open up. Later talking to a relative of his we discovered that this man’s late wife did play the violin.

    This story of mine also had a long term effect that music became a constant part as a form of therapy.

    Your article really brought this experience of mine back to life.

    Thank you 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Sylvia,

      I’m glad to know that you had a positive experience with music therapy for adults with dementia.

      It’s the same with special kids , they also open up, engage, focus and enhance their communication skills, as well as their fine and gross motor skills.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.

      Marita

      Reply
  22. This was very inspiring to read. How you talk about your sister, I know she must have been a very special person to you and to all people around her.

    For me music is very important in my life. I can’t imaging life without my music, as I love to listen (really listen) to the instruments and the lyrics. It helps me relax after a long busy day. I just put my headphones on and relax into the music.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Reply
    • Yes, my sister Pangga is very special to me and my family and everyone who comes in contact with her. She was  a happy person who exudes love and innocence.

      Music is for everyone. Our world becomes a happy place with music. It connects every person, regardless of age, color, or culture.

      I’m happy to know that you love music. It also makes my day light and relaxing. I usually hum a tune anywhere and anytime.

      Glad that my article inspired you.

      Cheers,

      Marita

      Reply
  23. I’d like to start by saying how sorry I am for your loss. The fact that you’ve taken such a tragic event and turned it into a platform to help others is amazing and inspiring. I agree with you that music can be so therapeutic for children with special needs, I think it can be therapeutic for all. Music can change our moods with a single melody. I really enjoyed your article and how detailed you got in order to help others.

    Reply
    • Hi Victor,

      Thanks for your concern of my loss.

      My family decided to make my sister’s passing away more meaningful by helping other children with special needs. She did not have the chance to attend any special education program, and I know that it really impacts the kids’ development so we fully support them in our town. It’s our way of honoring my beloved sister.

      Yes, music is for everyone. For children with special needs, it adds more meaning and so beneficial for them.

      God bless,

      Marita

      Reply
  24. I believe music is therapeutic for not your child with special needs but for everyone. Including the musicians that create it. 

    I’m a musician and it’s very therapeutic to write music and play music as well. 

    I can definitely see how this could be therapeutic for children. Have you ever tried the focus music playlists on Spotify or YouTube?

    Reply
    • Hi John,

      I couldn’t agree more; music is really therapeutic  both  to the musician, like you and the listener.

      This is especially true for children with special needs, they really learn how to focus, engage and develop their communication and social skills, as well as their fine and gross motor skills.

      Thanks to composers and musicians like you, our days become happier and more relaxing because of your awesome music.

      I usually play relaxing music ( from You tube )  at work to help me focus.

      Marita

      Reply
  25. Musical experiences in children can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. Most children recognize music faster than learning to speak. Teenagers match musical experiences to form friendships and to set themselves apart from parents and younger kids. They often want to hang out and listen to music after school with a group of friends. I listen to music to calm my heart too.

    Reply
    • Hi Kit,

      I definitely agree with you, music enhances the kids’ speaking and academic skills. They learn how to focus and express themselves. That’s why I encourage parents of special kids to enroll them in a music therapy program.

      I also believe music becomes an important part of a teenager’s life. It helps them to connect with their peers and lets them express how they feel, especially to their crushes.

      Every generation has different choices of music, that’s for sure.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply
  26. Very interesting article. It is amazing what music can do for someone. I have heard of the elderly listening to music they used to listen to as a young person and it just opens their minds and hearts. It is such a therapeutic, wonderful thing to see children “come alive” with music. Music “clicks” with them and they become emotionally happy. Thank you for writing this piece to open all our eyes in a masterful way of helping our special needs children. 

    Reply
    • Hi Jennifer,

      Music definitely brightens our day and lifts up the mood of everyone, young and old alike.

      It is more beneficial for our special kids because even if they are non-verbal, their faces and reaction will tell everyone how they feel. They can express themselves through music and improve their focus and communication skills.

      Thanks for reading.

      Marita

      Reply

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