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  • Writer's pictureAlisa Rao

Music Therapy and Developmental Disorders

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

By Tangela Nguyen

In light of World Autism Awareness month, we find it imperative to focus on the overarching umbrella of developmental disorders, and how the treatment of music therapy can show multitudes of life-changing benefits/growth for these individuals. Developmental disorders, as defined by the CDC, “ are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.” The root of this cognitive disturbance is yet to be directly identified, however it is supported that they are almost solely reliant on genetics, sometimes environmental factors, sometimes a fusion of both. Some examples of development disorders are: ADD, Cerebral Palsy, Tourettes, Autism, and Fragile X Syndrome Those with these disabilities are highly vulnerable to developing other mental health illnesses, i.e depression, BPD, anxiety disorder. While not matching the magnitude of prescriptions or psychological counseling, music still has its role to aid the process of growth. Music therapy, as quoted in our video curriculum, “is a health profession where music is used to address the physical, emotional, and social needs of a patient”. First founded as a response to the trauma of World War ll veterans, it continues to grow and practice in medical settings. Sound is external, yet can trigger the release of chemicals that are proven to reduce feelings of discomfort, i.e Endorphins, Immunoglobulin A, Cortisol, and Dopamine. With the release of these chemicals aids in quelling high blood pressure and heart rate. Varying severities case by case, many individuals are unable to complete day-to-day muscle movements, i.e getting dressed, speaking, understanding the speech of others. Music therapy provides alternative, and sometimes more successful means of improving these abilities.

Music therapy begins with the therapist assessing the patient’s well-being, social/physical health, and communication abilities through their musical responses. From here, the therapist will curate sessions with those factors in mind that they believe will benefit the client the most. These include (but are not limited to): music improvisation, music performance, and song writing. Since there is such a wide spectrum of these methods, there is not one that evidently improves developmental disorders the most, it highly depends on the individual. Whatever the method, music therapy has shown great improvement in the capabilities in those with developmental disorders.

The American Music Therapy Association has conducted that the range of benefits include: Improved attention, enhanced sensory-motor skills, increased socialization, and decreased aggression/hostility being the greatest change noted amongst clients. This therapy encourages the creative channelling

of negative feelings like anger, frustration, and hostility. Aforementioned, many individuals with these disorders also gain mental health disorders, most commonly depression. Music therapy can aid in this as well, as studies have shown links between the listening of repetitive music with a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol.

It should be noted that music therapy does not only heal the emotions, but can additionally help with certain physicalities.

Several cases of music therapy have been shown to induce increased motor-function, communication abilities, literacy skills, etc. In an interview between Cronkrite News with Tim Mcalee, Neurologic Music Therapist, he states, “...I have seen children on the autism spectrum who’ve spoken their first words for the first time in music therapy session.” (Mcalee).

Though seemingly unconventional by some, music therapy is evidently a stellar option when looking to treat those with developmental disorders. Further data regarding the correlation between the two is yet to be conducted, but the value of therapy can only grow from here.


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