Music Therapy for Mentally Retarded Children

Effect of Music Therapy
Music contributes to: reasoning ability, reading skills, feelings and response, personal fulfillment, language development, the promotion of communication, motor control and physical well being, socializing and pleasurable experiences in a group. Music has been successful as a therapeutic intervention for children with disabilities. It has been used with children of all ages from preschool to adulthood and with many types of disabilities whether congenital or adventitious.
Music Therapy for Mentally Retarded Children

-Neeta Pandey 

Music, being a Universal language, influences all levels of human existence. It is a medium for communication, which can be both: a pleasant experience as well as a healing experience. Modern science and medicine are now rediscovering the healing powers of music. Music Therapy is not a commonly used healthcare method, but recent studies have suggested it can have a wide range of benefits. Music therapy- the specialized use of music in treating persons with special education- is gaining ground.

Music Therapy is a controversial but effective form of rehabilitation on mentally retarded people. A great amount of research has been completed on this subject. It has been proven that our brains respond to music as if it were medicine. Although it is a fairly new method of healthcare, it dates back thousands of years. The use of Sound and Music is the most ancient healing modality. Today the power of music remains the same, but music is used much differently than it was in ancient times. This article is concerned mainly with the treatment of mentally retarded children through music therapy.

Music as a therapeutic tool:
Music contributes to reasoning ability, reading skills, feelings and response, personal fulfilment, language development, the promotion of communication, motor control and physical well being, socializing and pleasurable experiences in a group. Music has been successful as a therapeutic intervention for children with disabilities. It has been used with children of all ages from preschool to adulthood and with many types of disabilities whether congenital or adventitious. 

Music, when used as a Therapy, is called Music Therapy which is an interpersonal process where the therapist uses music and all of its facets-physical, mental, social, aesthetical, and spiritual to help clients to improve or maintain the health of the retardates. In some instances, the retardate’s needs are addressed directly through music, in others, they are addressed through the relationships that develop between the retardate and therapist. 

Music therapy is used with individuals of all ages and with a variety of conditions, including mental retardation, medical problems, physical handicaps, sensory impairments, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, communication disorders, interpersonal problems, and ageing. It is used to improve learning, build self-esteem, reduce stress, support physical exercise, and facilitate a host of other health-related activities. Thus, Music therapy is the prescribed use of music and related strategies, by a qualified therapist, to assist or motivate a person towards specific, non-musical goals.

The Therapeutic characteristics of Music include:
• Captivating and maintaining attention. 
• Stimulation and utilization of many parts of the brain. 
• It is easily adapted to and can be a reflection of, a person’s abilities. 
• It structures time in a way that we can understand (“that’s the last verse- my exercise session is almost over!”) 
• It provides a meaningful and enjoyable context for repetition. 
• It also provides a social context- it sets up a safe, structured setting for verbal and nonverbal communication. 
• It is an effective memory aid. 
• It supports and encourages movement. 
• It taps into memories and emotions. 
• Music and the silences within it provide nonverbal, immediate feedback. 
• It is success-oriented – people of all ability levels can participate.

Therefore, Music possesses certain unique characteristics that make it an ideal means to help achieve appropriate behavioural changes in the case of mentally retarded children.

What is Mental Retardation?
As far as defining the term mental retardation goes, many terms and definitions have been used in its description. Basically, mental retardation actually refers to sub average general intellectual functioning which originates during the development period and is associated with impairment in adaptive behaviour. (Heber, 1961, p.3). This definition is useful and pragmatic because it includes reduced intellectual function and impaired social adaptation.

Value of Music for the Retarded:
Prior to 1940 music was generally used with these children for its educational value. Teachers were concerned mostly with what the child was capable of learning through music. With the introduction of music therapy, there has been an increasing concern with adaptive behaviour during the music activity. A greater effort has been made to understand how and why such children respond to music as they do. Those who have used music in working with mentally retarded children soon become aware of its value for these children and of the fact that the retardate often responds more readily to music activities than to most other activities. Therefore, since 1940, the use of music therapy for those who are mentally retarded has grown rapidly.

Whether one is a music therapist or a music teacher in special education, it is important to know well the potentials of music, to know how retardates respond to music, and to understand why music is an effective tool with retardates. A successful music therapist should be in a good physical and mental health and should have the motivation, stamina and maturity, necessary for working with exceptional individuals in a therapeutic way. 

It goes without saying that a therapist has to be a sensitive and caring person who can accept differences in others. Just as important, a therapist should also have the self-awareness and emotional stability needed to enter a helping relationship with individuals who have problems. It is said that the best therapists are those who have healed themselves. This is why, therapy is often recommended as an essential experience for therapists, both during training and at various times during their clinical career. Only with this knowledge and understanding can the best results be achieved. It is not magic that causes the retardate to respond so well to music. He responds to the same basic features of music as any other child does.

One of the greatest problems of the retarded is ‘communication’. Either they have limited use of words or, particularly in the case of the severely retarded, they are non-verbal. This makes it most difficult for others to use words to establish contacts with them and thus creates problems in interpersonal relationships. According to Michael Smith (1962),” Contact is the first step in the amelioration of the problems in interpersonal relationships”. Music, because it is nonverbal communication, is a natural medium for establishing this desired contact.

Interaction can be achieved in nonverbal as well as verbal situations. Music, because it is also nonverbal, may be the opening wedge with the mentally retarded. The lack of communicative ability in the retarded necessitates satisfactory, socially acceptable means of communicating feelings, which music can provide. Although the degree and emphasis may be different, music functions with the retarded just as it does with the normal.

For mentally retarded children music therapy sessions involve-
• Use of different musical media to achieve individualized treatment goals.
• Live music offers increased flexibility and adaptability to match and guide physical movements elicited by the client.
• Musical instruments may be used to work on a range of motion, hand grasp strength, and nonverbal self-expression. These instruments are often adapted to fit the specific physical capabilities of each child.
• The act of singing may assist in the maintenance and improvement of oral motor skills and pulmonary functioning. Singing provides opportunities to improve breath-control, rate of speech, articulation and pronunciation skills.
• Discussion of lyrics and songwriting may provide opportunities to discuss and share personal thoughts and experiences.

Music Therapy for Mentally Retarded Children 
Group activities:
Group participation is essential to the life adjustment of retarded persons. They have few social contacts, and, many of them function at an extremely inadequate level in interpersonal activities. Music is an excellent medium for group experiences because it affords interaction at a non-verbal level and allows acceptable and successful non-threatening participation at different levels of ability. Hutt and Gibby (1958, p. 298) stated that music provides the retarded with an opportunity for growth in a group situation.

Circle games, line games, and action songs are useful for young or regressed patients. During these games, the therapist can determine whether the patient is able to imitate other persons, whether he is comfortable enough with the group to introduce new motions, and whether he has a fund of ideas from which to introduce new motions. The child who must have someone take his hand and lead him around the circle seems to be on a different adaptive level from one who is bale to maintain this formation on his own. This kind of observation can help the therapist to check the improvements in the retardates and help him to take the retardate on a higher level of treatment.

A Sense of security through music:
The mentally retarded child needs to feel secure and music provides this security through its inherent inner order and structure. The same music activity can be repeated happily many times, and thus, for the child, predictability becomes certain. The continuous basic beat and the repetition of the melodic structure provides an expectancy that will help alleviate the retardate’s fear of the unknown. Security also may be achieved by providing some structure to the music period itself, including the repetition of familiar activities. When presenting a new activity, it should contain some elements of familiarity. If this is not done, the retardates may refuse to participate. Security can be enhanced through the musical experience because of the positive feelings engendered. Gaston (1958) has written that music is related closely to the tender feelings and therefore “may effectively arouse that which is often at low ebb in patients.”

Enhancing self-esteem through music:
Gratification, and consequent self-esteem, is another basic need of the mentally retarded. Often they are aware of their deficiency and lack of accomplishment, and this awareness affects their sense of personal worth. They experience insufficient development of self-esteem because of their inability to cope with the demands of society. Music can provide experiences that bring about greater development of self-esteem. 

The music activity allows for different levels and different kinds of participation; therefore, the mentally retarded child is able to participate regardless of the severity of his retardation. The response may be quite simple but he is participating. He is a contributing member of the group, and thus he can feel successful. This feeling of success brings about gratification and self-esteem. Music provides for the enhancement of pride in self, self-actualization, successful experiences, and more significant participation at whatever level of ability the child possesses.

In planning music activities, the therapist must know the developmental level of the retardate. It is difficult to select activities and songs that allow the retarded to participate and that are suited to their social development. This difficulty is not so much in rhythm and listening activities, but in the selection of appropriate materials for singing. The song must have a simple melody and text with a certain amount of repetition and, at the same time, meet the retardate’s interest and social level. Songs containing repetition syllables are generally an excellent choice, particularly for the severely retarded. 

Folk songs and many traditional songs often meet these requirements and qualifications. The Los Angeles County (1960) manual for special training classes of the severely retarded suggests that “children’s familiarity with current music or songs that are part of our culture improves their chance for fitting into the community and environment in which they live.”

Utilization of leisure time:
Another important aspect of therapy is to help the mentally retarded use their leisure time properly. This is often neglected, the therapist being concerned mainly with immediate behaviour problems. All is lost if the retarded are not shown how to use adequately what they have learned in therapy, either outside the institution or in school. Too often, the retarded are rehabilitated for the particular setting in which the therapy occurred. 

When they leave the school or institution, they are prone either to sit around or to pursue undesirable problem-causing activities. Social workers find that many of the families of the retarded, particularly the severely retarded, are deteriorating because of the problems caused by the retarded individual. This suggests that in providing music experiences for the mentally retarded, care must be taken to help them see how the might utilize music in their leisure time. It cannot be assumed they will use music in this way just because they have been exposed to it. This will have to be taught. 

The therapist or teacher must not only discuss with them how they might use music in their homes but carefully show them. This course of action needs to be repeated again and again. Interest will be created by experiences such as field trips, demonstration of instruments, and discussions about certain music events occurring in the community. Before retarded individuals are taken to a concert in the community, they should have the opportunity to hear some of the music. They then will be familiar with the program, and their attention and response will be enhanced. The selection of some of the music activities must be made with the idea that the retarded will be able to use them in the community or at home.

Therefore music has much value for the retarded. It can benefit them in many ways. Music fulfils a number of their needs in a subtle, non-threatening way and the therapy can contribute to the diagnosis and evaluation of retarded patients and is useful in treating the emotional maladjustment that typically occurs with retardation. A further contribution can be made in the area of adaptive behaviour because the music therapy session can be structured to include a variety of social situations and opportunities for the patient to assume personal and social responsibility. Perhaps most important for many retarded children, music activities can minimize the differences between the mentally retarded, those with different types of handicaps, and normal children.

• E. Thayer Gaston, Music in Therapy, The MacMillan Company, New York 
• Dybwad, G. Mental retardation. In J. Rothstein (Ed.), Mental Retardation. New York; Holt, 1961. Pp. 5-7 
• Heber, R. A manual on terminology and classification in mental retardation. Monogr. Suppl. Amer. J. Ment Defic. (2d ed.), 1961. 
• Los Angeles County, The Education in Special Training classes for children who are severely mentally retarded. (rev.ed.) Los Angeles; County Superintendent of Schools Office, 1960 
• Robert F. Unfeker & Michael H. Thaut, Music Therapy in the Treatment of Adults with mental disorders: theoretical basis and clinical interventions, Barcelona Publishers 
• William Baron Davis, Kate E. Gfeller, Michael H. Thaut; An Introduction to Music Therapy – theory and practice 
• Rajendar Menen, The Miracle of Music Therapy, Pustak Mahal, 2002

Neeta Pandey 
Ph. D Scholar, 
Faculty Of Music & Fine Arts, 
University Of Delhi, Delhi-110007

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