Music Therapy And Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disability, also referred to as learning disability, intellectual disability, or cognitive disability, is a kind of life long disability which is caused due to any form of physical impairment, mental impairment or a combination of the two.

Such forms of severe or chronic impairments become evident before the person attains twenty-two years of age.

The patient experiences functional limitations in three or more of the following areas, which hugely restrict or limit his daily activities —
1) Ability to take care of self
2) Ability to learn languages and put it to receptive and expressive use
3) Learning capacity
4) Free coordinated movement
5) Self-direction
6) Ability to lead an independent life
7) Potential for economic self-sufficiency as an adult

Patients suffering from developmental disabilities may also be suffering from lack of perceptual, sensorimotor, and socialization behavior. Usually, those people who have been diagnosed as suffering from mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Down’s syndrome and Fragile ‘X’ Syndrome, are considered to have developmental disabilities.

Music is a non-verbal, non-invasive, non-threatening means of communication and expression. Music can reach where words cannot. It has a strong healing power and provides a distinctive stimulus where other of stimuli or verbal commands fail to reach. Therefore, it has become increasingly popular as a tool for teaching people with developmental disabilities. Music therapy is used to improve social interaction and communication. It is also known to develop and improve the attention span and the ability to follow directions. It aids in the sensorimotor development by improving the sensory stimulation, and motor skills. Music therapy also helps in improving the cognitive elements of perception such as thinking, reasoning, remembering, imagining, or learning words. Personalized music therapy sessions provide structured musical interventions to meet the cognitive and physical needs of the patient.

A music therapy plan is first drawn up by the music therapist after thoroughly understanding the therapeutic and educational needs of the patient and also after a complete assessment of the patient’s capabilities. Then the therapist tries to build rapport with the patient. After developing a good rapport with the patient, the therapist implements the structured musical sessions and records the observations and progress periodically.

Although group music therapy sessions are helpful in improving the socialization aspect of the patient’s behavior in addition to the other benefits of music therapy, they fail to address the specific educational or cognitive needs of each patient. However, individualized music therapy interventions can help address the individual needs of the patient.