Music therapy uses musical instruments or songs to engage students with disabilities and help them meet goals. Experts say music therapy can help improve fine and gross motor skills and even help a nonverbal child with autism learn to communicate.
Special education teachers are not typically trained in it, so school districts must contract with certified music therapists, according to the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis (http://bit.ly/XzwsXM ).
Catherine Decker, whose CdMarie's Music Therapy Services works with clients in St. Charles County, says parents and educators are often confused about the purpose of the service.
"A lot of people think you're doing musical education," she said. "The real reason you're using it is to meet non-music-related goals."
In music therapy, a student using a guitar in music therapy isn't seeking musical literacy but learning how to manipulate fingers for better fine and gross motor skills.
"For social skills, we work on turn taking, sharing and being in a group setting with other kids. We learn how to get attention appropriately," said Maria Carron, who founded Midwest Music Therapy. "Music can also assist in processing information, sequencing and following directions as well as help in learning a variety of different academic skills like numbers, letters and colors. It is individualized for the needs of each student."
The service is only for school children diagnosed with an educational disability, such as autism or Down syndrome. The criteria are stiff.
"When a student is assessed for music therapy service, the district has already identified that all other therapies or strategies aren't working to meet their individual education goals," Carron said.
Music therapy is offered in addition to the standard strategies for helping students meet their individual education plan goals, such as reading at a higher grade level or pronouncing consonants with proficiency. It is typically a last resort after other interventions have fallen short.
Therapists said they see progress like increased motivation and better grades. And it isn't just for kids. Decker has used music therapy with seniors who have had strokes.
"We work with them to try to retrieve their access to expressive language," she said. "In general, we really do work with all populations. There's different techniques and approaches for different disabilities."