Music is a language shared and understood by all ages — and more recently, it is being used to help toddlers with developmental delays.
Music therapy is the use of music to help toddlers in their growth and development, including toddlers with special needs. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as “an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.”
As a medical treatment, it grew out of World War II, when community musicians began to make visits to veteran’s hospitals to play for wounded veterans. Seeing positive results, medical professionals soon realized that music might have benefits of its own and a new branch of research was created. The first collegiate music therapy program was created in 1944 at Michigan State University.
In the medical setting, music therapy should be administered by a board-certified music therapist, who will have the credentials “MT-BC” after his or her name. This means they have earned accreditation from the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Music therapy is offered through hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, and private practices.
A music therapist is able to create a program of activities for the specific needs of a toddler after observing the toddler’s behavior and interactions with others.
Music activities used in music therapy include singing, listening, moving, playing, and other creative activities with music. Although this is a fairly new form of therapy, it has grown rapidly. Research shows that benefits of music therapy include:
- Stress relief. It is used to help toddlers deal with their anxiety and fear when undergoing medical procedures like getting shots.
- Helps toddlers learn words and improve their speech.
- Improves movement and muscle control through dancing.
- Promotes self-expression and socialization.
- Helps build family relationships.
Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorders
Music therapy has also been identified as an “emerging intervention” by the National Autism Center. This means there is decent data supporting its use in children with autism spectrum disorders, but not enough to recommend it as a first-line therapy. When working with children on the autism spectrum, music therapy integrates ASD-specific strategies like prompting and reinforcement with music techniques like singing and vocalizing, movement and dance, and playing instruments.
Who Pays for Music Therapy?
Music therapy is recognized as a qualified early intervention Medicaid treatment in some states for certain groups. It is also covered under some private insurance plans. Lastly, many patients pay privately for music therapy.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, May 2020
- Music therapy is an accredited form of evidenced-based therapy.
- It is used to help toddlers deal with stress and help with developmental delays.
- It is listed as an emerging therapy for autism.
- Music therapy is offered through hospitals, clinics, schools, and private therapists.