While the benefits of music therapy are well known, more in-depth research explores how music benefits children with autism.
- Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.
- According to a 2004 study, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, and reduce their anxiety and improve body awareness.
- Various music therapy activities and tools can be used to help improve the quality of life of children with autism.
Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.
Credit: HTU on Shutterstock<p>Music has quickly become a tool used in various therapies because it can stimulate both hemispheres of our brain rather than just one. Theoretically, a therapist could use a song or instrument to support cognitive activity that helps children with autism build self-awareness and improve their relationships with others.</p><p><strong>Music encourages communicative and social behaviors.</strong></p><p>According to <a href="https://nursejournal.org/community/the-benefits-of-music-therapy-for-autistic-children/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20reasons%20that,and%20improve%20relationships%20with%20others" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nurse Journal</a>, "...if we look closely at the way that a band works, it is obvious that the instruments must all interact with one another, but the player only needs to interact with the instrument at first."</p><p>This can be particularly difficult for children dealing with autism, but by introducing an instrument to their therapy, they may first bond with the object itself and then open up to interacting with others through the use of their instrument. </p><p><strong>Music also encourages a better understanding of words and actions. </strong></p><p>For children with autism, listening to a song about brushing their teeth could help them learn how to do this activity. Autism can create barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together may help the child feel comfortable singing or expressing themselves in front of others. <a href="https://nursejournal.org/community/the-benefits-of-music-therapy-for-autistic-children/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20reasons%20that,and%20improve%20relationships%20with%20others" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to research</a>, dancing exercises in songs also help stimulate the sensory systems, allowing the children to enhance their fine motor skills. </p><p><strong>The positive impact of music goes beyond social interactions, helping children develop better motor skills and body awareness.</strong></p><p>According to a 2004 study published in the <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15307805/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Journal of Music Therapy</a>, music intervention used with children and teens with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can improve their social behaviors, increase focus and attention, increase communication attempts (vocalizations/verbalizations/gestures), reduce their anxiety, and improve body awareness. <a href="https://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/466/eaav6056" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A more recent 2018 study</a> showed similar results. </p>
How music therapy works<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUzNzgxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTczMDE1MX0.LAR9CriMqe0ABrn_PO6sIC0NnwQIEgC2PMdGO9EKqbc/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="31f1c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="44f2d092d894f167590c075494c31c33" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman playing music with child" />
"All people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music."
Credit: Photographee.eu on Shutterstock<p>Music is used in many different therapies. Used in conjunction with traditional therapies, music therapy benefits us in a variety of different ways.</p><p><strong>According to <a href="https://positivepsychology.com/music-therapy-benefits/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Positive Psychology</a>, some of the major health benefits of music therapy include: </strong></p><ul><li>Reduces anxiety and physical symptoms of stress </li><li>Helps to manage Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease </li><li>Reduces depression and other symptoms (in the elderly population) </li><li>Reduces symptoms of psychological disorders </li><li>Improves self-expression and communication </li></ul><p><strong>The Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy. </strong></p><p>This approach to music therapy interventions was developed through the 1950s-1970s by Paul Nordoff (an American composer and pianist) and Clive Robins (a teacher of children with special needs). <a href="https://positivepsychology.com/music-therapy-benefits/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to Positive Psychology</a>, this is an approach designed to harness every person's potential for engagement through active, communicative, and expressive music-making. </p><p>This approach emphasizes the importance of music-making in developing skills, a sense of self, and a capacity for social interactions. Nordoff and Robins both believed that all people, regardless of pathology, illness, disability, or trauma all have the ability to make music. Due to Robins' history with teaching children, this specific approach is well known for its work with children and adults who have learning disabilities or difficulties. </p><p><strong>Relaxation music therapy.</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/music-as-a-health-and-relaxation-aid-3145191" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Research</a> has proven music aids in muscle relaxation. This can enable you to easily release some of the tension in your body, and when you do this, your mind also relaxes. While this is particularly useful for adults, it can also be beneficial for children. Music can be used as stress relief when a child with autism begins to feel overwhelmed in a new situation. <a href="https://positivepsychology.com/music-therapy-activities-tools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Positive Psychology</a> also explains that music therapy for children can also aid in offering a rhythmic structure for relaxation and breathing. </p><p><strong>Music therapy for children.</strong></p><p>What does music therapy look like for young children? Music therapy will vary based on each individual child's needs and abilities. For some, it can mean learning to play a musical instrument and for others, it can be singing or learning new activities through songs. <a href="https://positivepsychology.com/music-therapy-activities-tools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Various music therapy activities and tools</a> can be used (discussed and decided upon by both parents and therapists) to help improve the quality of life of children with autism. </p>
Symptoms of mental illness in children are often dismissed as "going through a phase."
- A 2020 CDC study examined mental health symptoms in four different school districts within the United States from 2014-2018. This study found that, based on the reports from both teachers and parents, one in six students showed enough behavioral or emotional symptoms to be diagnosed with a childhood mental disorder.
- Mental health conditions or illnesses in children are generally defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills, or emotional regulation.
- Children can develop many of the same mental health conditions as adults, but their symptoms may be different.
1 in 6 (or 1 in 3, depending on the school district) children were shown to have enough symptoms to be diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Photo by Syda Productions on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/school-aged-mental-health-in-communities.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2020 CDC study</a> examined mental health symptoms in four different school districts within the United States from 2014-2018. This study found that, based on the reports from both teachers and parents, one in six students showed enough behavioral or emotional symptoms to be diagnosed with a childhood mental disorder.</p><p><strong>What was the Project to Learn About Youth Mental Health (PLAY-MH) study?</strong></p><p>This was a school-based study conducted throughout the years of 2014-2018. This study was designed to estimate how many kindergarten - grade 12 students had specific mental health disorders. </p><p>The information was collected in two phases. In phase one, teachers in selected school districts were asked to complete a short questionnaire to determine a student's risk for a mental health disorder. In phase two, the parents of selected students were asked to complete a more structured interview to determine if their child met the criteria for a mental health disorder. Between 1 in 6 students (1 in 3 in some districts) fit the criteria, according to the combined data.</p><p>Teachers also identified a higher percentage of boys, non-Hispanic Black students, and students receiving free or reduced-price lunch as having a higher risk for mental disorders than their peers at most schools. However, based on the parent reports, there were generally no major demographic differences in the percentage of students who met the criteria for a mental disorder. This interesting discrepancy suggests that estimating effects of race or income on symptoms gave different results depending on the way the symptoms were examined. </p><p><strong>How can we help at-risk students?</strong></p><p>The information gathered during this four-year study can help parents, teachers, and communities alike to understand and become more aware of the mental health struggles of younger children. With this knowledge, interventions and treatments can become more normalized when dealing with children's mental health conditions.</p><p>The CDC has some suggestions for how we, as communities, can help our at-risk children:</p><ul><li>Schools can consider screening students for mental health concerns and then following up with effective services and counseling options. </li><li>Pediatric and family clinics can use this information to establish how many children may be at risk. </li><li>Communities and parents can work together with school systems to integrate mental health services and referrals into the schools. </li></ul>
Common mental health disorders in children, according to experts<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk1NDc4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODg4NzYwMH0.C3dNExRsuVrcDvs_z68q2FY62kee157DLvBtubmmq8A/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="7b6fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a6b046f215f2c8d99c44d09de0dbdef3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Stressed and anxious student sitting at desk during exam" />
Anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, ADHD, ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and eating disorders are among commonly overlooked mental health conditions in children.
Photo by Monkey Business Images on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to experts</a>, these are some of the most common disorders among children:</p><p><strong>Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders):</strong> These conditions may appear as persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupt their ability to participate in play, school, or other typical age-appropriate activities.</p><p><strong>Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):</strong> Children who struggle with ADHD have difficulty with attention, tend to have impulsive behaviors, generalized hyperactivity, or some combination of these issues. </p><p><strong>Depression (or other mood disorders): </strong>Depression in children presents as persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that disrupt their ability to function in school and interact with others. </p><p><strong>Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):</strong> PTSD is a prolonged state of emotional distress and anxiety that is prefaced with negative memories, nightmares, and disruptive behaviors in response to a traumatic event the child may have suffered. </p><p><strong>Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): </strong>This is a neurological condition that often can be noticed in early childhood (before the age of three), if you know what to look for. The severity of ASD can vary— a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.</p><strong>Eating disorders: </strong>Eating disorders show as a preoccupation with an ideal body type. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.<p><br></p><p>You can read the full study <a href="https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1007/s10578-020-01027-z?sharing_token=a3EvHilTjILJ1pJ3KXQQP_e4RwlQNchNByi7wbcMAY64y5G2OhNS1lAeStiE_xCQ5Ke8aBy4C65sfPZeG19uCwJxFWfAgXejmrE2lLmeYUPkpgNGQgq5jMOY-830oPGU5UOPil0_vjxCu9D4EOPVGt5v1H35kEN5sBTGFb5YJJ8%3D" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p>
Technology is an important tool, but it will take an ecosystem of educators, students, and caregivers to make the most of it.
- The old adage that it "takes a village" has proven true for education in the time of coronavirus. What constitutes a "school" and who is considered an "educator" has changed out of necessity, but important opportunities for the future have come from these unexpected circumstances as communities have and continue to adapt.
- "The greatest human superpower is empathy," says Kaya Henderson, "the ability to deeply connect with other people and to see yourself in them and to see them in you." She argues that "a part of the reason why we are so divided in this world today is because we see people as 'other' and we don't see them as extensions of ourselves."
- While technology has become a big part of the education landscape, community is still the keystone. "I want technology to amplify and to scale excellence," Henderson says. "To amplify knowledge and to scale excellence all at the same time while paying deep attention to the human connections that are integral to education."
Estonia has combined a belief in learning with equal-access technology to create one of world's best education systems.
- Estonia became a top performer in the most recent PISA, a worldwide study of 15-year-old students' capabilities in math, reading, and science.
- PISA data showed that Estonia has done remarkably well in reducing the gap between a student's socioeconomic background and their access to quality education.
- The country's push toward providing equal-access to learning technology is a modern example of the culture's dedication to equity in education.
Estonia's cultural heirloom<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzc0Mzk5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDMyNjU2OH0.rTLLp1sU-VH33gVkZD33Yn-td9wsEOE3Dm0gjoecly0/img.jpg?width=1068&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=559" id="96dbe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2a10956a524467f160f83ddaee4901c5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing student performance scores in reading for the 2018 PISA study.
A Tiger Leap forward<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzc0NDAyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDM0MTA4Nn0.H5-_Jxe6JOldGX12EhCtz1lr4yArmlCaKHD5UBXwIkg/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C47%2C0%2C175&height=700" id="d7e87" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c391c4512ba7c5ee6533cb6a9b4a61dc" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="students and teacher at computers" />
Fourth-grade students learn computer skills in elementary school.
What can we learn from Estonia's success?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7062b1eb332bc8c8b101f53433f20be7"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rbhQ_euH7Ac?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While Estonia may not spend as much on a dollar-to-dollar basis, the country has created immense valuable in its system by spreading the educational wealth. Part of that achievement stems from removing barriers to primary education and fostering equal-access to learning technology; however, those are simply examples of the principle of equity at work. <a href="https://ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/estonia-overview/estonia-teacher-and-principal-quality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Others include well-educated teachers</a>, even at the pre-primary level; granting schools broad autonomy to adapt the national curriculum to suit local and cultural needs; and maintaining at-school support centers so students have access to mentors, psychologists, special needs teachers, and anti-bullying resources. The list goes on.</p><p>"The success of any system is sort of like a puzzle," Tire said. "You have to have many pieces and fit them in properly, or you won't see the whole picture."</p><p>Is there room for improvement? Of course! Just ask any Estonian. Tire told me that recent PISA data showed a discrepancy in the results between the country's Estonian-speaking students and its Russian-speaking ones. They are looking into the reason for that gap and how to raise scores across the board. When asked the same question, Reps pointed to improving the country's vocational-track education, the integration of practical skills into <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_(school)" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gymnasium</a>, and research into personalized learning.</p><p>When asked what other countries could takeaway from Estonia's example, my interviewees were more cautious. As Reps rightly points out, "Education is so culturally and historically tied. It's very difficult to copy something, and I would be careful to tell any country to copy the Estonian model." </p><p>She did offer some facets for consideration, though. She recommends that systems never look at a child as a problem to solve. Instead, it should look to ameliorate issues in their background or experiences. Even though education systems can be expensive, they should always be child-friendly and dedicated toward their growth. Digital technology doesn't create equality de facto; it must be accessible to all. And trust your teachers. "They are amazing human beings. They come to teach; they want to give their best; they want to help their pupils."</p><p>In my own research into Estonia's education system, its history, and its successes, I would humbly add one more: Foster a culture that values education and assures its available to everyone.</p>
From reassessing the way schools are funded to changing the curriculum, there are ways to fix the inequities in education.
- Recognizing when something is overtly racist is easy, but when it comes to education in America there is often subtle and systemic racism at play that can put children at an early disadvantage. Chris Lehman of the Science Leadership Academy says that now is the time to have these important conversations and to design schools to be anti-racist.
- Lehman says that in Philadelphia, the amount of money spent on one child's K-12 education can be $170,000 less than that of another child who lives in the suburb just a block away. These racist systems and structures are in place in cities across the country but are often not addressed.
- Family income directly translates to the amount spent by the public to educate children. "That's one of the most anti-American things I can imagine," Lehman says about the racial and socioeconomic inequity. While funding is a major component, changes must also be made at the curriculum level.