Music Therapy in Special Education: Early Childhood Academy
Despite its powerful impact on students, music therapy is a rare service in special education in Utah. We are finding alternative ways to get the ball rolling!
In some states (such as California) music therapy is more widely used in public schools, while others have little to no music therapy involvement in special education. Up until 2016 in Utah, we have had a grand total of three public schools that provide music therapy services. All three of these are center based schools serving children with special needs but with no music therapy provided in cluster classes throughout the district. In order to get services to school age children who so desperately need it, we have chosen to approach private and/or specialized charter schools who often find funding to provide these services.
Harmony Music Therapy has been involved with Elizabeth Academy (an inclusive Montessori School serving age 3-13) for several years. This year Elizabeth Academy expanded to also offer an inclusive special education program specifically for children age 0-5 called “Early Childhood Academy”. This school is unique because there aren’t Montessori schools that are inclusive in the area and who allow children with different needs into their programs. Here we will describe the school set-up, as well as how music therapy is being utilized in the school.
Early Childhood Academy has three classrooms: an infant/toddler classroom, and two preschool aged classrooms. In each classroom there is a lead Montessori teacher, an assistant teacher, and a speech and language pathologist. The school also contracts an occupational therapist, physical therapist, and a music therapist all to help these children learn to the best of their ability through early intervention. This means that for each classroom there are three dedicated resources with an option to include three shared resources.
As the music therapist in this school, I work with all three classrooms providing group music therapy twice a week (per classroom). I also work with individuals who sign up for music therapy and after an assessment are eligible to receive services. While working with both the individual and group setting under the heading of “music therapy”, each of these sessions are very different.
Age 3-5 Classes
In the group setting for the preschool age students, the music therapist is encouraging social skills, communication skills, and cognitive/academic skills based on what the teachers report needing. It is also based on in-the-moment assessments made by the music therapist during the sessions or observations noted throughout the school day. We address these goals through instrument play/active music making, active singing, and movement interventions. The group sessions can also target self or emotional regulation as some of the children in the school need sensory breaks and help regulating themselves.
For the infant/toddler class, group music therapy is more focused on bonding with caregivers and exploring the environment around them through instrument play and bonding songs. The toddler class still works on social skills and communication, but the exploration piece is just as important.
Each classroom also receives one hour of consultation services that include the music therapist going into each classroom during that time to work individually with children and to talk with the teachers and help brainstorm music interventions to help with any goals the students are working on.
Individual Music Therapy
Individual music therapy sessions are more specific to each child that has scheduled a one-on-one session. Some of the goals might be to increase fine motor skills through manipulating instruments or increase gross motor skills through music assisted gait training. Or we may work to promote healthy self-regulation through active music making or movement interventions.
It is so exciting to see growth, not only in specific school settings such as the Montessori school being inclusive, but with each individual child. Our intent is to make music therapy a more normalized and accessible special education service in Utah Schools.
–Written by Rachel Kucera, SCMT, MT-BC
–Edited by Jaycie Voorhees, MM, SCMT, MT-BC