Music and Down Syndrome
Each day in the United States, one to two babies are born with down syndrome, a genetic condition resulting from the presence of an extra chromosome (trisomy 21). Those affected by this disorder often have a unique physical appearance and experience a certain degree of learning disability, delayed development, or speech delay. Many of these symptoms can make it more difficult for them to learn or communicate with others. However, with guidance and certain physical or developmental therapies, people with down syndrome can lead fulfilled and content lives. Recently, researchers have found that music can be used as one of the tools to overcome the various physical and cognitive challenges that result from down syndrome.
When combined with other forms of therapy, music provides a plethora of benefits for down syndrome patients. For one, music therapy helps to improve speech and linguistic skills. The same skills that are used to produce music are used in language (pattern recognition, expression, sequencing/structure), so exposure to music often helps down syndrome patients to speak more fluently and coherently. Furthermore, songs and instruments that target specific facial muscles can help to enhance oral motor skills. Wind instruments are especially useful for this- blowing air into the instrument strengthens numerous muscles that are involved in facial expression and speech.
Likewise, singing songs that involve specific letters or sounds allows down syndrome patients to develop the necessary pronunciation and oral movement for producing those sounds. Additionally, some of the physical symptoms of down syndrome make it difficult for down syndrome patients to maintain fine motor skills. However, by introducing them to musical instrument exercises such as playing the drum, they can improve their coordination, muscle strength, and fine motor skills. Finally, group-oriented music therapy provides down syndrome patients an interactive activity in which they can develop and enhance social skills and self-image. Participation in musical activity allows them to understand group settings better and take leadership roles, as well as bolster their confidence by being engaged and productive.
Like other conditions, music alone cannot treat down syndrome entirely, and it is necessary to involve other forms of therapy. However, music is undoubtedly effective in improving speech, motor, and social skills for down syndrome patients, who sometimes struggle in these areas. Currently, scientists are conducting more research to see which down syndrome patients may profit most from music therapy, and if more complex musical training (such as playing a more complex instrument) would be both possible and beneficial.