Music Therapy in Special Education at an Inclusive Montessori School
Music therapy is a powerful teaching tool in special education. Elizabeth Academy Montessori has developed an inclusive program for a variety of students.
This 2014-2015 school year I started working two days at a week at a private Montessori School in Salt Lake called The Elizabeth Academy. It is a state of the art facility that is designed to be an inclusive education environment with both special education and typical students. The students range in age from 18 months to 12 years old, and 15% of the students in each classroom have special needs. This may include diagnoses of Down Syndrome, Autism, physical disabilities, Mood Disorders, Williams Syndrome, or other developmental disabilities. There are several specialists who offer Art, Dance, Reading Therapy, Speech Therapy, a Library Center, and Music Therapy/Enrichment. I spend my mornings doing music therapy with individuals or small groups, and fill my afternoons with what we term music enrichment. I’ll explain a bit here about the difference between the two and what all of that looks like.
Music Therapy Mornings
At the beginning of the school year, parents signed up to have their children (both those in special education and typical) screened for the different therapies offered at the school (Speech Therapy, Reading Therapy, and Music Therapy). Based on those assessments we made recommendations for which kids would benefit from which therapies (or combinations of therapies). I then took my own caseload and placed students in group or individual settings based on their needs and goals.
I see students with a range of needs from academic to emotional, and work with all of them on a weekly basis. Each special education student has individualized goals and objectives based on the initial assessment as well as input from teachers and parents. I design music therapy interventions to address those needs and track their progress with each session. We have open communication and bimonthly meetings with the Speech and Reading Therapists to discuss progress or difficulties of particular students, and strive to foster an atmosphere of collaboration.
Music Enrichment Afternoons
In the afternoons each class has the opportunity to attend various “Enrichments”. These include PE, Art, Dance, and Music classes. I see 5 groups each afternoon for 30 minutes at a time. These Music Enrichments are intended to help students increase understanding of music (form, theory, notation, rhythm, etc.), develop musical skills (i.e. maintain a beat, sing familiar songs, learn new songs, identify pitch, etc.), and, at the top of my list, to enjoy engaging in and learning through music. Enrichments are more music education than music therapy, however because of the 15% of students with special needs in a fully inclusive environemtn, it is ideal to have a music therapist there who can address many needs simultaneously.
I have been intrigued with this opportunity to teach music skills to young children, and delighted to see them grasp ideas quickly and run with them. This is the first time I’ve been in this type of inclusive setting and it is a truly enriching experience! I am gaining new insights into the importance of music education, the critical elements of music therapy, and how it all works together. I see many of my music therapy students during afternoon enrichments, and am able to see how the skills we address in the morning start to carry over into the group setting. I can also identify those in the afternoons who have particular areas of need, and make recommendations for therapies outside of the enrichment setting.
Elizabeth Academy is truly a unique place, and I am honored to be a part of the program. I look forward to continuing to work with the exceptional students and seeing them progress throughout the year!