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Pediatric Music Therapy

Our music therapists are trained to meet children where they are by using their knowledge, creativity, and skills to create patient-specific treatment plans. Since music therapy is designed to be developmentally appropriate for anyone, it provides an opportunity for self-discovery and the chance to release emotions a child might otherwise keep to themselves, such as a child with autism.


During their first meeting, a music therapist will assess the patient’s abilities, set up goals and create an action plan for future appointments. A session can last anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes and may include the therapist providing music or the therapist and patient making music together. Depending on the needs, a meeting can be as simple as chanting and singing to something more complex like recording a song.

A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills. Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness: intellectual, social and emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps the body and the mind work together.

When children are too young to explain their feelings or desires, it’s smart to cover as many bases as you can. There may be undiagnosed behavioral or anxiety issues. Music can get past those barriers. Music therapy has had excellent results in developing speech, motor, social and cognitive functions in children with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and anxiety disorders.

Music is a Multi-Sensory experience. Many children diagnosed with special needs disorders have complex sensory needs and may constantly be sensory seeking input in the form of self-stimulating behaviors. Use of music therapy interventions can help to reduce undesired behaviors and increase more appropriate responses. With many music experiences, the child receives auditory, visual, and tactile input in one place. As this can often be helpful, we must also keep in mind that some children are easily overwhelmed by too much sensory input.


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boy with autism playing guitar
Understanding Autism

Autism can usually be noticed within the first three years of our lives and is recognized as a highly complex disability that affects development of our social, verbal and cognitive abilities. This disorder can affect the way that we communicate with other people, and although there are similarities between different cases of autism, it’s difficult to narrow down a specific sign of cause or symptom.

Approximately one in sixty-eight of Americans will have a form of autism, and it is not something that we can outgrow, although being diagnosed early means that there is a better chance for treatment.

How Does Music Therapy Make a Difference for Individuals with Diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum?

Music therapy provides a unique variety of music experiences in an intentional and developmentally
appropriate manner to effect changes in behavior and facilitate development of skills.


Studies show that most individuals with ASD respond positively to music. People with ASD often show a heightened interest and response to music, making it an excellent therapeutic tool for working with them.

Music is a very basic human response, spanning all degrees of ability/disability. Music therapists are
able to meet clients at their own levels and allow them to grow from there. The malleability of music
makes it a medium that can be adapted to meet the needs of each individual. Music is motivating and enjoyable. Music can promote relatedness, relaxation, learning, and self-expression. Music
therapy addresses multiple developmental issues simultaneously. Music therapy can provide success oriented opportunities for achievement and mastery. The structure and sensory input inherent in
music help to establish response and role expectations, positive interactions, and organization.

Through peer-reviewed journals inside the profession such as the Journal of Music Therapy and
Music Therapy Perspectives, and extensive articles in journals outside the profession, AMTA has promoted much research exploring the benefits of music therapy with individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. Clinical outcomes studied have focused mainly on the use of music to address:

  • Communication

  • Cognition

  • Behaviors

  • Social Skills and Interaction

  • Emotional Regulation

 (AMTA, 2008)

The following statements represent targeted areas and rationale for using music therapy with
individuals with ASD that have been the topics of published research, evidence-based practice, and/or clinical observations:


  • Music holds universal appeal. It provides a bridge in a non-threatening setting between people and/or between individuals and their environment, facilitating relationships, learning, self-expression, and communication. Music captures and helps maintain attention. It is highly motivating and may be used as a natural “reinforcer” for desired responses.

  • Music therapy can stimulate individuals to reduce negative and/or self-stimulatory responses and increase participation in more appropriate and socially acceptable ways.

  • ​Music therapy can enable those without verbal language to communicate, participate and express themselves non-verbally. Very often music therapy also assists in the development of verbal communication, speech, and language skills. The interpersonal timing and reciprocity in
    shared play, turn-taking, listening and responding to another person are augmented in music therapy with children and adults with autism to accommodate and address their styles of communication.

  • Music therapy helps individuals with ASD identify and appropriately express their

  • Because music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain, it can stimulate cognitive functioning and may be used for remediation of some speech/language skills. Recent research notes that music may engage brain regions that overlap the human mirror neuron system (Wan et al., 2010).

  • Music provides concrete, multi-sensory stimulation (auditory, visual, pro-prioceptive, vestibular, and tactile).

  • The rhythmic component of music is very organizing for the sensory systems of individuals diagnosed with autism. As a result, auditory processing and other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, gross and fine motor skills can be enhanced through music therapy.

  • Musical elements and structures provide a sense of security and familiarity in the music therapy setting, encouraging individuals with ASD to attempt new tasks in a predictable but malleable framework.

  • Music therapy focuses on strengths, which in turn may be utilized to address each individual’s areas of need. Many people with ASD have innate musical talents; thus, music therapy provides an opportunity for successful experiences

Learning Disabilities

Understanding Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities (LD) are neurologically-based processing problems that can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, and abstract reasoning. The types of LD are identified by the specific processing problem. “Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.


A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” In general, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.


A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; however, with proper support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community. In federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability.”

Nearly 4 million school-age children have learning disabilities and they occur in approximately 1 in 59 or 1.69% or 4.6 million people in USA.

How can music therapy address the need areas for an individual with learning disabilities?

Speech/Communication: Music can be used to practice and discriminate between sounds, aid in the development of receptive and expressive speech and language skills, improve choice making, communicate information/knowledge and develop an understanding of patterns of language. Co-treatment with speech therapists also enhances the effectiveness and rate of progress for children. This helps to facilitate the generalization of skills from the music therapy session to other settings.

Cognitive/Academic: Music can be used as mnemonic device to teach specific academic information such as a phone number, address, and other factual information. Customized consultation music therapy kits for a specific skill (e.g. learning the letters of the alphabet) can be created for family and therapists with included visuals, song lyrics, and a CD with a motivating, fun musical song to rehearse and check for understanding of the skill. In addition, the inherent structure of music provides predictability, is motivating and captivating, which often results in increased compliance and on-task behavior. 

Motor Skills: Music therapy is effective in improving hand-eye coordination and gross and fine motor skills through instrument playing. Specific instruments can be selected to address the difficulties of an individual. For example, if a child has difficulty tracking and catching a ball, a drum (held by the therapist) and a mallet (held by the child) can be moved to different locations around the child and the child has to track and strike the drum as it moves. Music therapy can also address problems with coordination by providing a steady pulse with which to synchronize movements. Music and movement activities may include following simple directions in song (clap hands, stomp feet). Co-treatment with an occupational or physical therapist also may enhance the effectiveness of music therapy strategies.


Social: Music therapy is a motivating setting in which a child’s social skills can be enhanced. The child can practice following directions, role-playing appropriate responses to social situations and participate in a group experience with peers. Social song stories can be created specifically for the child to address areas of need. These social song stories are used in many ways and can be role-played and generalized outside of the music therapy session. Another technique that may be used is songwriting, which can encourage creativity and emotional expression. Each group member may contribute an idea or word to a song the group is writing. In this way, music can be used to create a successful experience where the child can enhance his or her self-esteem with other peers.

girl listening to music

Speech Delay

Understanding Speech Delay

Delays in language are the most common types of developmental delay. One out of 5 children will learn to talk or use words later than other children their age. Some children will also show behavioral problems because they are frustrated when they can't express what they need or want.


Simple speech delays are sometimes temporary. They may resolve on their own or with a little extra help from family. It's important to encourage your child to "talk" to you with gestures or sounds and for you to spend lots of time playing with, reading to, and talking with your infant or toddler. In some cases, your child will need more help from a trained professional, a speech and language therapist, to learn to communicate.


Sometimes delays may be a warning sign of a more serious problem that could include hearing loss, developmental delay in other areas, or even an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Language delays in early childhood also could be a sign of a learning problem that may not be diagnosed until the school years. It's important to have your child evaluated if you are concerned about your child's language development.

How can music therapy aide in the treatment of children with delayed speech development?

Over the years, the therapeutic, medical and educational communities have come to understand the power of music. Music has both sound and rhythmic elements that communicate to the human body. Before the child can speak words there is cooing and babbling. Babbling includes tone, pitch and cadence. Babies will imitate the rhythm of adult speech and adult sounds. This is all building a symphony of sounds so their vocabulary will be constructed when ready.

Did you know that listening to or singing along with music uses the same neural circuits as expressing speech? Music, the rhythm, the beat, the cadence, even the lyrics share neural circuits used for language. Therapists can use this ability to help a child who struggles with language and speech skills to communicate. Children with developmental disabilities or those who have autism and other obstacles many times struggle with communication and interpersonal skills. Just as music therapy helps with interpersonal interaction and emotions, it can also assist with communication skills.

5 similarities between music and language*:


  1. Music and Language are universal and specific to humans

  2. Both have pitch, timbre, rhythm, and durational features

  3. Spontaneous speech and spontaneous singing typically develop within infants at approximately the same time.

  4. Music and language have auditory, vocal, and visual uses (both use written systems) and are built on structure and rules.

  5. Distinct forms of music and language exist and vary across cultures

Gifted Learners

Understanding Gifted Learners

What distinguishes gifted children from other children? This question has been under debate for some time. However, as educators, understanding how gifted students learn in comparison to their peers is necessary for the success of their learning experience and your ability to connect with them through teaching.

During most of the 20th century, giftedness was determined by testing a student's IQ. As special education programs became more advanced, tests for symptoms of particular disabilities developed, and alternative methods of identifying giftedness emerged. Some educational psychologists believe that giftedness differs markedly from talent; they define giftedness as a high aptitude for learning in a particular area and define talent as a superior level of mastery in a field or skill.


Others claim that there are two types of giftedness: students who exhibit a high level of natural academic ability, and those who exhibit a high degree of motivation and creativity. This definition of giftedness gives students more responsibility to prove that they are truly interested in developing their ability and will take advantage of the opportunities offered them if they are selected for a gifted program. Because of the financial limitations in most public school systems, gifted programs are often highly competitive.


The federal government defines gifted and talented students as those who perform to a high degree in certain areas, including mathematics, leadership, writing, or creative endeavors. Gifted students also must demonstrate the need for special programs and services that will help them pursue their interest in their area or areas of giftedness. When selecting students to receive special services for giftedness, the criteria for eligibility usually include test scores, teacher recommendations, how quickly the student learns, and other attributes that are typical of gifted students. 

There are five ways in which gifted students tend to learn differently from their peers:


1. They learn new material much more quickly.
2. They have a better ability to remember what they have learned, which reduces or eliminates the need for review.
3. They have ability for abstract or complex thinking that their peers do not have.
4. They become focused on specific topics and are very passionate about them to the exclusion of other topics and subjects.
5. They can take in many stimuli at once, knowing what is going on around them while concentrating on a specific task.

Gifted students might be pulled out of their regular class for part of the day to learn at a more advanced level, similar to the way students with learning disabilities are pulled out to learn at a level that is appropriate for them.


child dancing to guitar
Understanding ADD/ADHD

Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) both affect people’s ability to stay focused on things like schoolwork, social interactions, and everyday activities like brushing teeth and getting dressed.

The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that kids with ADHD are hyperactive. They have trouble sitting still and might be so restless that teachers quickly notice their rambunctious behavior and suspect there might be attention issues involved. On the other hand, kids with ADD might fly under the radar because they aren’t bursting with energy and disrupting the classroom. Instead, they often appear shy, “daydreamy” or off in their own world.

Technically, ADD is one of three subtypes of ADHD. The term ADD is still used by many parents and teachers. But since 1994, doctors have been calling it by its formal name: ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. The other two subtypes are ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type; and ADHD, Combined Type, which involves both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms.


Kids with the inattentive type of ADHD may have trouble finishing tasks or following directions. They tend to be sluggish and slow to respond and process information. It’s often difficult for them to sift through relevant and irrelevant information. They may be easily distracted and appear forgetful or careless.

How can Music Therapy benefit children with ADHD?

Music therapy isn’t a replacement for traditional ADHD treatments, but it can be a highly effective complement. Music can increase attention and focus, reduce hyperactivity, and improve your child’s self-esteem. Here’s how it works:


  • It provides structure. Kids with ADHD have a hard time keeping their brains on track. The timed beats and clear beginning and end of music creates structure that helps your child’s brain stay on a linear path.

  • It boosts dopamine. The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for regulating working memory, learning, attention, and motivation. Unsurprisingly, it’s in short supply in the brains of kids with ADHD. In fact, the reason stimulants are commonly prescribed to treat ADHD is because they increase dopamine levels. Music, too, boosts dopamine — 100 percent side-effect-free.

  • It relieves anxiety. Is your kid constantly fidgeting or acting out in class? This might be a sign of anxiety, a common issue in people with ADHD. The calming nature of music soothes nerves and make it easier to focus.

  • It improves social skills. Playing music with other children is a wonderful way for your child to gain confidence in his interactions with others. In a group music class, he’ll learn how to read musical cues to know when to chime in — a skill that’s equally helpful in social settings. Plus, self-expression is excellent for building self-esteem. Source

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