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Understanding the Benefits of Music Therapy

About This Episode

Adam Dayan engages with Katie Lewis, a Board-Certified Music Therapist and Teacher at Gillen Brewer School, to explore the benefits of Music Therapy. The conversation delves into the daily experiences of a music therapist specializing in providing therapy services to children with special needs.

Katie shares insights into various techniques and individualized approaches used in music therapy, offering examples of success stories with her students. Together, Adam and Katie aim to shed light on the valuable role of music therapy in the lives of children facing special needs challenges.

(LISTEN) The Curious Incident Podcast Ep. 24 - Understanding the Benefits of Music Therapy

Transcript Below

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Do you have questions about your child's education? Call Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan at the Law Offices of Adam Dayan: (646) 866-7157 and request a consultation with our New York attorneys today.

Transcript: Understanding the Benefits of Music Therapy

ANNOUNCER:  This is Curious Incident, a podcast for special needs families, and your window into the world of special education. Special needs parenting can be challenging, and we want to make it easier by providing you with the resources you need to help your child. Still deep into the world of learning differently with your host, Special Education Attorney Adam Dayan.

ADAM:  I'm excited to present Katie Lewis, a certified music therapist as my next guest on this podcast. Katie is employed at Gillen Brewer School, a special needs school on the upper east side of Manhattan for students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade who have a wide variety of language-based and non-verbal learning disabilities. Katie, thank you for joining me here today.

KATIE:  Thank you so much for having me.

ADAM:  It's great to have you. So let's dive right in. What is music therapy?

KATIE:  Music therapy is a clinical profession where we are evidence-based. That means we're based on research and articles and studies like that in peer-reviewed journals, and we use music and music making to meet goals of all different kinds of clients that might come to us.

ADAM:  So let's start with what you said about being an evidence-based clinical practice. Can you explain to our listeners what that means?

KATIE:  We inform our decisions by up-to-date research, and we're consistently reading articles that others of our peers have written, and all of this research shows us that music therapy is a valid and legitimate form of therapy that can yield amazing results with many different populations.

ADAM:  Okay, and paint the picture a little bit more for somebody who doesn't know anything about music therapy. Talk about what that looks like.

KATIE:  Sure. So it really depends on what type of population you're thinking about. I'm coming from working with special needs kids for the last maybe four or five years now. And what that looks like is nothing has to be perfect in a session with a kid. It's not about getting through material or teaching them how to play something. It's really about providing an experience for them where you can open them up for a kind of a connection. So as a music therapist, I'm forming a therapeutic relationship with them. So I'm trying to bond with them and reach them in some way, and hoping that they're realizing that I'm opening up a bridge of communication with them. It doesn't have to be through words. It can be through music. It can be through sounds. It can be through facial expressions. I feel like music therapy is really good for making social connections. And kids, especially on the spectrum or with cognitive delays, they are going to learn best through play because that's what's on their level. So as a music therapist working with kids, I'm always keeping that in the forefront of my mind as a foundation of what I'm doing.

ADAM:  And it's all about connection, right? This is true in life as it is in this context. If a student you're working with doesn't have a connection with their instructor or the peers in the group, no learning is going to take place. Is that right?

KATIE:  Exactly, because the first step would be to gain their attention in some way, right? So you could be kind of paying attention, but if you're not truly engaged and there's not a back and forth relationship with your teacher, your instructor, your therapist, if you're not engaged, I don't think change will really happen, you know, because if a kid's wandering around the room, I know that they're at least listening to me. So the first step has kind of been accomplished, but then to get on their level and to create a back and forth communication, that's where the real engagement starts to happen and the real therapy can start to happen.

ADAM:  Okay, great. And we'll talk about the experience of it a little bit more shortly. First are there any common misconceptions about music therapy?

KATIE:  First of all, some people call it musical therapy, which makes me think of Broadway musicals. And you know, we're not putting on a show here. It's music therapy. So there's many different ways that we're using music. It's not just me singing songs at them, if I know what their favorite artist is, I'm not just going to sit there and play songs on the guitar of why I know what they like. I'm going to try to intentionally plan out interventions and ways that I can challenge them and get them to expand their music making and their listening experience. So it's not just singing songs at them. It's not just haphazardly making music and having fun. Although it is really fun sometimes. It could be challenging and hard sometimes. Although it is really fun, it's a lot more than just making things up in the moment. It's an intentional process of improvisation, if that's what you're doing. If you're improvising music, you're trying to structure it in a way. Maybe you're trying to get like a call and response thing going. So that's the opening form of communication, right? Is one person talks and the other person talks. So there's a call and response thing. You can do that through music and through sound. And it might not look like we're doing much, but we're tapping into creating these opportunities that kids can reach goals.

ADAM:  Right. And if I'm hearing you correctly, it's not just about entertainment. It's more about engagement and communication. Is that right? Exactly. Okay. So let's focus in on the session some more. Talk about what a music therapist does within that music therapy session.

KATIE:  Sure. So talking about an individual child's coming to me, there's a lot of observing and waiting and listening and following them in where they want to go in the room so that they feel comfortable. I would do some kind of a transitional song to get them accustomed to the space and what we're about to do. I would do a hello song where I would just be using as many or as little words as I thought necessary in the hello song. This could be strumming on the guitar. If I strummed on the guitar three times and they hit the drum three times right after me, if I left a big, long space, I would know that there's a potential for a connection and a communication between us. So I'm just going to keep trying to broaden that. They can engage in the activity for however long they want to. If they're going all around the room and wanting to try new things, I'm going to let them do that at first. But I'm going to try to structure it and challenge them to maybe stay with the activity for one minute longer than they would have because frequently a lot of kids have attention challenges. So it's following them but at the same time trying to structure what they're doing and how we're doing it together.

ADAM:  I think this is a really important point in special education law as legal practitioners. We always look at whether the program is individualized for the student and that's what I'm hearing you say. You're talking about the ways in which you're individualizing. You're looking at the student's interests, personality, preferences and determining what should you be doing in a given moment based on those factors. Am I correct?

KATIE:  100%. So we're doing an assessment. Maybe even before the kid comes to a session with us, we're sitting in the class and we're observing how the kid is interacting with their peers if they're following directions, if they're with the group plan, if they're cohesive in the group at all. And then when we bring them into the music room, we're assessing also what's going on, how can music help this child? So that kind of brings us to goal planning just so you could see the reasoning that we use behind the choices that we make and how specifically certain musical interventions or musical activities can work on these goals. So for example, a client that I used to see who we will call Sarah. She was basically nonverbal. She would make sounds, but she wouldn't really use phrases, one or two word phrases even. She was very self-directed, which means that she's not showing a lot of joint attention with anybody else. That means that both parties are paying attention to the same thing at the same time. It was almost like if I came over to try to join her and what she wanted to do, she would leave right away. She was just not interested in making those relationships and those connections. So I could see this in the classroom. I could see this in the music room. So that tells me that what she really needs is opportunities to work on communication and socialization and building joint attention because you need joint attention if you're going to play with somebody else. And that's how kids learn is through play. So I look at what she's doing and how she's presenting. And then I think to myself, what are her needs? I feel that this specific child needed to build peer relationship through developing modes of communication and the ability to extend her joint attention. She needs to develop words and an understanding of language so she can respond to others. And she needs the attention to be able to focus on parallel activities, so doing the same thing at the same time. So she can develop friendships so she can develop social skills, which is essential because kids learn best from their peer role models because they're on the same level as them. So then I think about what goal can I have her reach in music therapy? What's a music therapy goal for her? And it kind of comes down to that she'll increase her ability to attend to others within cooperative play in music with adults and peers. So then I break that down. And I'm like, okay, if she's going to increase her ability to attend, how am I going to measure that? If she sits with me for two verses of one song and she's engaged in it just for two verses. Now that might be 30 seconds. Then she's met that short term goal. And then I can focus in my attention to get her to expand that more and more and more.

ADAM:  Talk a little bit about the implications this has for the rest of the school day, right? You've talked about joint attention. You've talked about peer relationships. You've talked about words and language. So if she's making progress in these areas in music therapy, what implications does that have for the rest of her school day?

KATIE:  Music can work on all of these goals. Music especially has the ability to bring people together because when you're making music together, you feel like you're part of something along with somebody else. And when we're in school, we're together and we're a part of a class. So it helps build the identity of her within her class. And all these goals that she's reaching in music therapy are basically opening up her eyes to the possibility that this can exist in other places. Regarding goal planning, I would say we're constantly adjusting and readjusting the goals of the children. And then if I'm talking about a group, if I'm talking about group music therapy, that is going to look a little bit different. So I do have the individual goals of the children in mind of each unique individual in that class. But I also have the overarching group goal, which is often pretty similar for many classes. Overarching goals are to follow the group plan and be cohesive as a group. And as you can imagine, in a special needs class with young children, there's very few moments where everybody's doing the same thing at the same time. There's always somebody who has a different idea or who is not attending to the task at hand. So as long as that is always influencing how I'm working, I want the group cohesion and for them to really feel like a class.

ADAM:  So I know you talked earlier about the population you're working with currently. I know music therapy can be applied or used for different populations. Do you want to talk a little bit more about who can music therapy help?

KATIE:  Sure. I can talk from my own experience. I've been very lucky to do my field work and internships in a variety of different places. I was in a mental health facility, helping people with various diagnoses. Music therapy and especially drumming, group drumming, drum circles, that type of idea really helps ground people in mental health facilities, especially because with those repetitive sounds, they become a little meditative. You know what to expect and there's a structure created in the environment where in a world where they might have anxieties and not know what to expect, at least here and now, they can be in the moment because you're physically hitting a drum. You have a physical connection to sound and to a group that you're in. So in mental health facilities, music therapy, I feel like, is a very valuable tool. I've also volunteered in facilities for older adults with memory issues, dementia, Alzheimer's. And it is truly fascinating and amazing to watch how they might not remember anybody's name, but they remember every single word to their wedding song and you see glimmers of clarity and of the person who they really are deep inside but might have lost. So music therapy for older adults is amazing. Music therapy for developmentally delayed adults is also very good to work on memory skills, to work on social skills, to work on their confidence too. When they suggest songs that they like and everybody's singing them together, everybody does an activity based on what song is their preference. It's very valuable for them to feel confident. Pre-mature infants in the NICU, in hospitals, I got to do one of my field works in a hospital and that is truly fascinating. There's so many interesting articles about especially premature infants who are having difficulty feeding. When you play a steady beat, they really get into the motion of latching onto the bottle and they measure this. They measure how frequently that premature babies can be helped by doing this. And that's truly amazing too.

ADAM:  That last example you gave about premature babies is very timely. What just recorded an episode about supporting parents of premature babies, that'll be out in January. I get it. Music has very powerful effects.

ANNOUNCER:  If you like what you are hearing, please let us know by subscribing to the Curious Incident podcast and letting other special needs parents know about it too. If you have thoughts, questions, comments, or would like to suggest ideas for a future episode, we'd love to hear it. So email your feedback to

ADAM:  Katie, I know there are different philosophies. Can you discuss them further?

KATIE:  A philosophy in therapy is basically the lens that you're looking at your work through. It's the lens that you're looking at your client through as well. So the philosophy I align with most is the humanistic philosophy, which basically says that we're looking at the client in a holistic way as a whole person. We're seeing their future, their daily lives, their challenges, their strengths, especially their strengths. So we're seeing them for what they can do and not what they can't do. And I feel like that's the best lens to look at special needs children through because you want to build on their strengths. I'm never saying, oh, this kid has a very tough time holding a steady beat. I'm not going to practice holding a steady beat with him. I'm going to follow what his strengths are and build off of those. There's other philosophies like psychoanalytic philosophy, which is based on a lot of Freudian concepts. There's neurological music therapy, which is based on neurological science. And I feel like the best way to look at especially special needs kids is through this humanistic lens of helping them feel confident. And it doesn't matter if they're doing things perfectly. It's the experience that they're having. And we're giving them that opportunity to have that experience with music and succeed, whether it's making a vocalization, a sound. Maybe they only are, let's say, just like grunting on one pitch. If I can get them to expand that pitch and maybe vocalize a little bit higher or a little bit lower, I'm getting them out of that inflexible world that they're living in and showing them that there's more.

ADAM:  Makes you stop and think how we think about special needs and disability. So many times we're focusing on what a child isn't able to do or their weaknesses or challenges. And I think what you say is very important that we need to focus on student strengths and tailor the program, tailor the instruction to student strengths.

KATIE:  We're setting them up for success, especially the school that I'm in right now, Gillen Brewer. We do so many individualized plans with each kid because we want to set them up for success. That's how they're going to grow in this school. And we have a team of such creative people who come up with ways to foster the child's interests and turn that into a success in the classroom.

ADAM:  Are there any special education students for whom music therapy would not be appropriate?

KATIE:  I think it's very rare to find a child who doesn't connect with music in some way. There might be some conditions where they're very averse to sound, to volumes of sound, to timbers, or kind of like the texture of a sound, metallic sounds, et cetera. They might be averse to certain pitches, like if something is way too high. But we work with them as a team to figure out how to slowly expose them to sounds because this is a life skill that you need, especially living in New York City. So I would say it's very rare to find a kid who it's not going to work for, especially because there's so many ways that you can use music to tailor it to that unique individual's preference.

ADAM:  Do you want to talk about what modifications you make or how you conduct that exposure gradually?

KATIE:  There's different ways that I can use music. I can use familiar songs that they're already familiar with. I can do a free form improvisation where everybody's just slowly filling in to play with the group. I can write songs with the class and I can have them listen to music from all over the world and expand their world of what music they know. So through all those different ways that you can make music, you can connect with a kid somehow.

ADAM:  I think of music as having the ability to bypass the conscious brain and also help a person break up patterns. Does that ring true for you in the context of music therapy?

KATIE:  Absolutely, especially for people on the spectrum. I'm noticing that very frequently the structure and what to expect in a song, it's almost a hypnotic effect. They don't realize that it's happening. For example, rhythm activities. I like to expose kids to what they would be exposed to in a typical school, what a music educator would expose them to, but I'm adapting these activities so I can keep on the same level as the kids that I'm with. So for example, rhythmic activities, quarter notes, eighth notes and rest and sixteenth notes, I'm pairing down everything else so that they can really focus it on it at their own tempo. So we're not trying to keep up with a beat, we're not a band or anything. We're just trying to keep those notes in sequence in their head for them at their own pace. So that's how I would adapt the sequential aspect of music, the pattern aspect of music for kids.

ADAM:  And just to give this conversation a little bit more color, is there any music that is popular in your classroom that gets played more than other music?

KATIE:  Definitely. I'm listening to the same Taylor Swift songs many, many times, which is funny because it's not exactly my cup of tea, but it is the students cup of tea. So I figure out ways that I can make this a valuable experience for them. So for example, I would play the song, I would get out some drumsticks and make up patterns to the song. Okay, that was my idea. What's your idea? What other pattern can we do to the song? So I found their interest, I met them where they are and then I'm trying to expand it. To be able to play a pattern to the song, you have to be regulated and you're also playing together with the group. So those are huge goals that you're meeting right there.

ADAM:  How do you determine if a child needs music therapy?

KATIE:  I really feel like every special education child could use it and benefit from it. How do we determine that? We're going to observe them. We're going to notice, are they singing in the hallway all the time? Are they making up their own songs, which shows a very elevated cognitive skill to be able to improvise and make up your own songs and narrate maybe what you're doing through a song. So if we see that, we see that there's potential to develop these skills into something different. If a child's, I can even put this into an anecdote, if a child is in a group music therapy session and it is way too stimulating for them. If they cannot sit in one spot, if they're going all around the room and touching every instrument, for example, we had a student who was just not in the right class for him, even though age wise, he was slated to be in this class. We realize he doesn't have the attention, join attention skills to be in this group yet. So he was moved to a class that was much more appropriate for him and much smaller for him. And when he came back to the music room, he was not that same overstimulated kid. He was not running around the room, touching everything. He was with a group that he more so belonged with. And I could see that there was a lot of potential for him to follow along songs and even to read music. If the music is written out in the notes on the staff and then if I put the letter of the note under it, he's very fascinated with letters. So he's looking at those, he's corresponding it to the piano. And he is able to basically appear as if he's a different child because he has something to sit and focus on. He has something that he's good on and he's independently regulating himself while he's doing it. For example, if he messed up a note, he gets dysregulated, maybe the music book even dropped down on the floor, he gets dysregulated, go ahead and run around the room and he likes to spin on the floor a little bit. He needs to get that out, let him have that moment to get it out. And then he comes back and he's independently regulating himself because he's engaged in an activity that is highly preferred for him. And I don't know if we would have ever gotten to see how focused and engaged and cognitively aware he is if we didn't give him this opportunity. And I just saw that he was able to do it in class and he was the leader in class doing it. So when time allows, I take him and have one-on-one time with him.

ADAM:  That's amazing. And it really underscores the importance of regulation. If a student isn't regulated, if they're in a dysregulated state, they're not going to be available for learning. 100%. Great example. Thank you for sharing that.

ANNOUNCER:  If you like what you are hearing, please let us know by subscribing to our podcast and letting others know about it too. If you have thoughts, questions, comments or would like to suggest ideas for a future episode, we'd love to hear it. So email your feedback to

ADAM:  I know we've talked a little bit about what individual sessions look like. Can you discuss further what group sessions look like in music therapy?

KATIE:  Absolutely. It's similar to the structure of an individual session in that I give a transition song. I would do a turn taking hello song. Those are very beneficial. It is very difficult to wait your turn. They're learning valuable social skills and they're respecting and being kind to their peers, watching them take a turn on an instrument. So for example, I often put out a xylophone. I'll do a hello song where I'll tell them to find a certain color, xylophone tile and then I'll let them play in their own way. This is not only great for these social skills that I'm talking about, but you're standing in front of an audience. And it's usually people's number one fear is to speak in front of an audience or perform in front of an audience. So we have this safe space for them where they're able to practice this, which is a huge life skill to work on. So that's typically what I do for a hello song. And I'm always waiting. I'm always waiting for the group to show me that they're ready. And I give it into their hands. You're showing me that you're ready because you're looking at me and your body is ready and your voice is off. So now I know that we can go do the next thing. If you listen the first time, we have a lot more time for fun things. So it's that structure. That's why I don't really feel like a music teacher. It's not a sense of perfection. It's like, this is up to you guys. I have a lot of fun ideas. I want to hear your ideas. So you let me know when you're ready. And I tell them with few words. I try to use as little words as possible because so many kids in the same class will be on very different processing levels. So I've developed an awareness to slow down, to wait for kids to have time to process because maybe if they didn't repeat after me right away when I hit the drum three times, they're still processing that. Maybe there's something else going on in their head, but they are going to do it. So waiting and leaving a lot of space. Then I'll usually bring out an instrumental activity because they're already warmed up to the space. They're already ready to have some fun. I might give them their choice of instrument. I might give them all maracas. And we sing a song with stop and go elements with instructional movements. Again, waiting for every kid, if I say put them on your head and one kid isn't, it's probably because I just didn't give them enough time to do that. So they're developing these skills of staying together with the group. Movement activities, I will throw in one, two or three movement activities throughout the entire half hour session. Because I'm not going to work against how much a kid needs to move around. I'm going to use that to my benefit. They want to move around. So let me do a structured song, a freeze dance, a pretend song where we're all swimming around the room like goldfish and having them follow directions within a song is also huge. And to see them smiling at each other and laughing and playing together and making physical contacts that's appropriate, it's really nice because they get the freedom within the structure of the song to have those moments in between. But they still are on target and with the rest of the group. And then I feel like it's always important to ask them if they have any ideas. Sometimes I'll get 50 suggestions and sometimes I'll get none. But I always like to leave it open to them if there's a song that we did a couple months ago that they want to revisit. And then really the time to cool down so that they can successfully transition out of the classroom into whatever activity they're doing next. Transition times are so difficult often for children because the whole experience that they just had in this room is now being upset and they're being asked to move to another room. So to have them cool down and take deep breaths and have songs that are very repetitive, that they know helps them orient themselves back to be able to transition successfully and then a goodbye song. And that might be 30 seconds, it might be five minutes. It all depends on what the class is telling me that their needs are.

ADAM:  Would you say the sessions are typically in a group or typically one on one or do you try to strike a balance between the two?

KATIE:  In the school that I'm in now, the schedule that they have allows for every class to come to group music therapy two to three times a week. I find the time within my own schedule to take children on one on one as I can. And as I've observed, if there's a student who it seems like they're overwhelmed in class because there's so much noise, however they're showing such interest and talent in a specific instrument, I have one girl who is very fascinated by the ukulele, but she can't focus in on it and play on it when there's so much other noise going on in the room. So I find that 15 minutes to grab her and teach her a new chord on the ukulele and she's so confident and I never would have known that she could accomplish these complicated strumming patterns on the ukulele if I hadn't had that one on one time with her. And for somebody with cognitive delays, it's quite pleasantly surprising to see how much they can accomplish rhythmically.

ADAM:  I went to an event a few nights ago and at the event they were featuring a boy with autism who was nonverbal for a long time. Music had reached him in a way that typical instruction could not or was not. And eventually he was able to start communicating through text, type to text or type to speak or whatever you call it. And the first word that he typed was J-A-Z-Z jazz for his love of music and this boy who now I think is a teenager or adult performed at this event on the piano. And it was amazing.

KATIE:  That also makes me think of how important it is to me to expose children to all different kinds of music and from music all over the world. Some music is written in different keys and key signatures than we're used to. They sound different. Maybe they sound a little bit sad to us, but just exposing children to all different types of world music is broadening their appreciation of music and maybe helping them find something that they're specifically interested in. So every different monthly observance, I try to bring that into my music class as well. I know the classrooms are often doing a lot of cultural awareness studies, so I try to connect that with what's going on in music and that only strengthens what the child is learning because they're learning all these different aspects of that now.

ADAM:  I think you talked about the skills that you help your students develop. Are there any other skills that come to mind that you're working on with your students in your sessions?

KATIE:  I think the biggest one, especially with group music, is social skills. Everything I said about joint attention and play, that's going to lead to imagination games where you can pretend that you're something else or somebody else. That's really big for development, is imagination skills and the ability to spontaneously make things up on the fly, which is not easy for every child. The more that they can learn that from their peers within a musical activity, the better. It develops relationships and eventually you want to see the music group go off on its own and almost lead itself without me having to do way too much. You want to see them coming up with ideas and collaborating on how to get this done. If the ideas are not going together, we're going to work on that skill of saying, okay, first we're doing this song, then we're doing this song, then we're doing this song. And everybody's taking their turn, they can see that they just created a plan that is a cohesive group plan that will work for everybody and that's fair and where everybody gets a voice.

ADAM:  Talk a little bit more about the imagination and creativity piece. How do your sessions or the techniques you're using in your sessions help your students tap into that?

KATIE:  I think it provides them with a safe space to not have to be accurate or do things right. And I think that starts these creative juices flowing of I'm getting praised for expressing myself, which is fantastic. I'm not going to tell a kid that he's hitting the drum too hard because probably everywhere else in his life, somebody is telling him, stop it, you're being too loud. So this is the space where kids get to be too loud, where they get to pretend that they're a monster or something and people are saying, no, don't do that in other areas of your life. But in music, you're able to do that. So that's basically music and musical activities go so well along with expression and creativity because there is no right or wrong. And kids have to explore that and test the boundaries to help their personalities come out, especially kids with special needs who might have trouble getting words out, who might have trouble communicating with peers who can't really interact with peers in your typical way. Maybe they have impulse control problems and they have a lot of trouble not being able to control their body and hitting and grabbing stuff like that. So in music, you can play out those things in a creative way that's helpful for them to learn the boundaries about that.

ADAM:  Yeah. So we're talking about something that's very deep and very core. They're learning about their personalities. They're developing a sense of who they are. They're forming their identities in a way that music is promoting or helping them access and they might not have been able to do in a different setting.

KATIE:  Exactly. And it's working on their memory skills too. That's making me think of a certain song I do on the drum, come under my umbrella. I'm sure I heard it from Barney when I was a little kid, but then I adapted to have movements and rhythm and singing into it as well. And that's a song that I'm noticing that many kids having trouble connecting requests that song over and over again because they know what to expect next and they get to hit the drum really loud. But they're also just using their fingertips and making raindrops on the drum or they're making wind and rubbing the drum and making all different kinds of sounds. So that's an example of meeting a kid where they are. If they just love being loud on the drum, let them be loud on the drum. Don't shy away from it, but then try to expand their range of how they're playing it.

ADAM:  Katie, do you have any anecdotes of a scenario where a student was having difficulty or challenge and what strategy or technique you used to help that student overcome that challenge?

KATIE:  One student that comes to mind was very self-directed, meaning he did not want to engage in an activity or an idea unless it was his idea. So it shows me that there's a little bit of control there and that might be stemming from anxiety, it might be stemming from a variety of different things. So if I see a student like that, I'm thinking they need to work on their flexibility. That means that they're willing to try new things and willing to follow directions, which is very important in school that creates the best learning environment. So this one student who was also quite overstimulated in class, I was able to see him one on one, another kid who loves to hit the drum as hard as they can, and I let him do it. And it seemed like he just wanted to listen to himself. But then I snuck in there and as soon as he stopped with his rhythm, his rhythmic pattern that he just did, I imitated it exactly right back to him with the same facial expression, with the same big arms, and then he knew we were communicating with each other. I repeated what he just said, and then immediately he did another rhythmic pattern. These are short, just like, you know, three or four beats, and I imitated it and we go back and forth, and this is five minutes. For a kid like him to engage in one activity for a five minute period is huge. He's the type of kid who his attention is always on something else because he's not engaged. I got him engaged on the drum, and then as time went on, as sessions went on, I tried to initiate the rhythmic patterns and see if he would follow it. And it did not work at first, but the more silly I made it and the more fun I made it, the bigger expressions that I did, the more motivated he was to try it. So we got this call and response thing going where we could both take turns and both be the leader, and that is a huge development in his flexibility as a student to set himself up to be in the best learning atmosphere that he can.

ADAM:  How do you measure progress?

KATIE:  Progress might be the child staying in the room for the whole time of a 30 minute session when they tried to leave before, after five or ten minutes. Progress might be me seeing more eye contact. It might be extending their engagement in one certain activity like I'm talking about. I don't want them to just go over to the piano and just tap it a few times and go run away. I want to figure out a way that they could sit there and engage with it. So it might be just sitting at the piano for an extra 30 seconds than they normally would. Progress might be, like I said, increased flexibility. Somebody who always wants to control everything and lead everything, maybe stepping back and giving somebody else a chance to say, oh, I have an idea. The next movement we could do is jumping and just this very simple turn taking thing. So progress is easier to see if you're jotting down all of the things that you see after each session because they can very quickly leave your head. So if you notice that that kid did not try to leave the group one time, you jot that down. So if you love going and telling the teachers about the progress that they're making, it puts it into a bigger context when you know what they're accomplishing in the classroom, what they're accomplishing in the music room, and can that connect?

ADAM:  What credentials or qualifications should parents look for in a music therapist?

KATIE:  You would see the initials MTBC, which means music therapy board certified. That means that we've passed an exam and that every five years we need to keep on collecting, continuing education credits to maintain that certification. Also you might see Elcat next to their name, which is licensed creative arts therapist.

ADAM:  Where can parents find qualified providers?

KATIE:  The AMTA website, the American Music Therapy Association website, has places where you can find music therapists that are close to you. There's also organizations of music therapy companies. So for example, I used to work for Long Island music therapy and they would have music therapists go to people's homes. So there's many different ways that you could find it. If you're going to search music therapists in your area, just make sure that they have that MTBC credential after it.

ADAM:  Well, this has been a wonderful conversation before we wrap up. Is there anything else you'd like our listeners to know?

KATIE:  I guess I would just like to talk about music therapy in schools and how I hope that every family who has a child with special needs is able to find a school for their child that provides an opportunity for music therapy. It adds so much to the creativity and the collaboration. I love working together as a team and talking to a child speech therapist or occupational therapist. When I have a question about what's going on with them in music. I just feel like music therapy in schools really enriches the developments in a holistic way for every child who gets to experience it.

ADAM:  And I'm just so curious how you ended up in this field. What led you to become a music therapist?

KATIE:  When looking at colleges, I was between going to school for psychology or going to school for music. So it is kind of funny that after all these years I ended up here where I am. But I went to a conservatory to study opera for my undergraduate degree. So I have a bachelor's in classical voice. And then for years and years I was a nanny. I was trying to audition. I was working in restaurants. And I knew that it was time to get a real professional career going. And it was kind of amazing that right then at that moment in my life when I was ready to pursue higher education, I was speaking to a family member who has Alzheimer's and experienced that incredible, surprising and beautiful realization that even though he does not know my name, he knows every single word to every single Frank Sinatra song. And when I looked into it further and realized how many studies there are with music and dementia and music therapy and Alzheimer's patients, I just realized that this is legitimate. There is a science to this. I was fascinated by it. And I knew how much I loved working with kids and especially special needs kids and how much I am a kid at heart. So I put two and two together and that's basically how I got into it.

ADAM:  Nice. Katie, thank you so much for educating our listeners on this important topic. You are opening doors for special needs students and helping them to increase their engagement and creativity, communicate and self-advocate more effectively and develop greater awareness regarding their emotions. Keep up the great work.

KATIE:  Thank you so much.

ADAM:  Thanks so much for being here.

KATIE:  Thank you. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER:  Thanks for listening to Curious Incident a podcast for special needs families don't forget to subscribe for a new episode every month for more resources and helpful information check out our website and blog at this podcast provides general information which is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice you should not rely on this information for any purpose for legal counsel you should consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances you're listening to this podcast does not create an attorney quiet relationship between you and the law offices of Adam Dayan P LLC no attorney quiet relationship is established unless a retainer agreement has been executed between the client and the law offices of Adam Dayan this podcast may constitute attorney advertising prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome any guests featured or resources mentioned on this podcast are for information purposes and are not endorsed by the law offices of Adam Dayan P LLC.


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