My 5-year-old son singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, while he plays the ukulele. It’s music to my ears! With a dual-diagnosis of Down syndrome and Childhood Apraxia of Speech Troy struggles to speak intelligibly, but somehow he speaks much more clearly while singing.
Speech therapy twice a week, and total speech immersion in an inclusive preschool class has helped Troy make great gains in speech intelligibility. But it’s his love of music and singing that has continued to show me where we should place our efforts.
Music therapy can seem frivolous, but research supports connections between speech and singing, rhythm and motor behavior, memory for song and memory for academic material. Music is processed by a different area of the brain than speech and languages, so a child may be able to more easily absorb information and skills presented with music.
“Music organizes the brain. The child strums the instrument with his right hand, which stimulates the left side of the brain. The left side of the brain is the center of language and speech, which is one reason Troy can speak more clearly,” explains my son’s Music Therapist, Kendra Carson. Kendra has been a certified practicing Music Therapist for 16 years, and has worked with all ages.
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Kendra says music therapy isn’t about music production. “Music is just the tool I use as a therapist to see what Troy’s non-musical needs are and facilitate non-musical goals,” Kendra says. She incorporates Troy’s speech goals into each session, and many songs like “Old McDonald” incorporate sounds and words that Troy struggles with as a child diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music.”
Even if you don’t have the time or money for private music therapy, you can incorporate music into your daily life to benefit your loved one with Down syndrome. Kendra taught me how to put familiar books to music. For example, Troy has memorized the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear. When we sing the words in the book to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Start he can read the book more fluidly. I’ve also helped my children learn my phone number and our address by putting them two easy tunes.
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This doting sister shown below shows off her natural music therapy skills in a social media video that’s gone viral. She shares the joy of music to help her toddler brother with Down syndrome learn to speak his first words. Check it out!
As a parent of child with Down syndrome, I understand that fitting one more therapy in can seem impossible. But many music therapists will come to you, and many local Down syndrome affiliates or county developmental disability boards offer scholarships to families for therapies and other activities.
You can find out more about Music Therapy and find a certified therapist in your area HERE. Does your loved one with Down syndrome love music? How have you facilitated this love of music to help him or her in other areas of life? Share your story with me below.