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Music Therapy For Adults With Developmental Disabilities



The power of music is undeniable for many people. Those with intellectual or developmental disabilities can also benefit from this power. Music therapy is an essential component that contributes to well-being in the long term with adults dealing with health conditions and disabilities.


Music therapy goals address helping people cope, providing comfort, and even targeting specific goals for improvement, such as motor skills, attention, or communication. There are numerous techniques that are utilized within therapy sessions.


Many people aren’t born with musical abilities, but the music still initiates and ignites different feelings and emotions. These feelings, paired with music therapy sessions, help benefit those adults suffering from developmental and learning disabilities.


To learn more about how music therapy for adults provides advantages, some of the techniques utilized within therapy sessions are outlined below. The research involved with music, in general, is also highlighted to demonstrate that music goes beyond just cognitive skills but also provides help to those needing to improve social, physical, and behavioral skills.


Goals for Adults with Developmental Disabilities


Music therapists first establish the targets older adults will work on within therapy sessions to overcome or improve. The goals and objectives of each individual will vary depending on what needs are present. Some of the areas that can be addressed include the following:


  • Increasing range of motion

  • Improve visual tracking

  • Reduce emotional or behavioral outbursts (coping strategies)

  • Decrease agitation or irritation

  • Improve self-confidence and social connections

  • Improve verbal communication

  • Working together in group settings (social skills)

  • Improve listening skills (auditory perception)

  • Increase fine motor skills

  • Improve memory recall

  • Reduce muscle tension

  • Work on greetings and gestures


Music therapy's physical aspects or targets can include improvements in heart health and address anxiety or chronic pain. Music is enjoyable and fun to participate in for most people, so it helps release endorphins in the brain that provide a feeling of well-being and happiness.


Music therapy can help provide comfort, stimulate post-operative pain tension, and calm heart and breathing rates.


Music Therapy Sessions - Techniques and Methods


Understanding how music therapy works for adults with developmental disabilities helps to know what occurs during each session. Typically the music therapist works with the adult to play a song or piece of music, ideally one that the individual would recognize.


The therapist may have the adult clap, play an instrument, or sing along with the music. Music improvisation often involves musical “games'' for the adult to interact with. Improvisation helps adults learn to play music freely or make up music spontaneously in the moment.


Sessions involving songwriting or musical composition help clients express their thoughts and feelings within the structure of music. This can allow a client to express complex ideas in a simpler form.


Physical movement involves moving the body in time and rhythm to the music. It can involve various exercises like stretching, simple dance moves to work specific areas of the body, or movement games and activities.


What’s Involved in Music Therapy Sessions?


Sessions can vary from the therapist encouraging the patient to talk about feelings, the song’s meaning through lyric analysis, writing their own song, recreating preferred music with live instruments, or participation within music improvisation.


Depending on the goals outlined above, the client may have multiple sessions that utilize different methods and techniques over time to monitor progress and improvement.



Music Therapy Activities


Depending on the activity, adults may do specific music therapy listening experiences, including Music Assisted Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This technique involves actively tensing the muscles individually. Once released, it helps remove tension and ease stress and anxiety.


Rhythmic Breathing is another type of experience utilized in music therapy for adults with developmental disabilities. Therapists prepare music or songs to help patients learn to breathe in and breathe out on specific counts, beats, or rhythms. The breathing pattern allows the adult to focus on controlling their air intake and outtake, often relieving symptoms of stress within the body.


Even adults who suffer from bouts of anger in need of anger management use music therapy as a method to help cope. Understanding anger and managing it is the objective of this type of work, and there are many ways to break down where the anger comes from to work through it better.


Rhythmic breathing is one way to remove yourself from a situation where you feel angry, and pausing to work on breathing exercises can help relax your body and mind to handle it better. Finding the best way to cope with music can be extremely helpful.


Music therapy is used in this manner as a coping skill, with things like lyrical analysis to help the client interact with the words in a song, analyze their meaning and, in turn, assess their own feelings, thoughts, and emotions in relation. They can express emotions in different ways, including movement, gestures or miming, or with their voice.


With the likes of industry insiders Track Club Music who works closely within the music industry shares, “While music serves as a base for skill development in individuals with developmental disabilities it also provides opportunities to learn and refine musical skills, such as playing instruments, operating recording equipment, and using software for editing and mixing. Therapy on the other hand facilitates sensory stimulation and integration for individuals with developmental disabilities to perform all these related activities.


Through music, individuals can engage with various sensory modalities, such as auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic experiences for both music professionals and non music professionals. This sensory integration can support cognitive development, motor coordination, and overall sensory integration skills.


Writing song lyrics and performing them is an activity that helps adults with developmental issues get their feelings out on paper. Journaling is another excellent way for people to organize their thoughts, and through performance, the client can effectively express those thoughts in a safe and healthy way.


The Power of Music Therapy for Adults


Telehealth statistics in the field of caregiving has taken a huge leap in recent years. Stimulation through music is an efficient way to help adults dealing with developmental, behavioral, and other learning disabilities.


Music Therapy provides them with a stimulating space to actively participate with others or work one-on-one where they can learn, grow, and develop healthy connections with others.


Music therapy is a way to empower people who need assistance across many areas, including physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Given the many techniques used in music therapy, the music therapist will help individuals find the best technique or method to use, from physical movement to lyrical analysis, as a way to enrich their life for the better.


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