As today is #worldmusictherapyday I wanted to give you an insight into my work with early years, specifically children under 5. I am passionate about work in this area as I believe the earlier the intervention the better the outlook for the future. I receive a lot of referrals for children under 5 and the main reason being they are unable to speak -this may be due to a disability or health condition, or due to anxiety and conditions such as selective mutism.

When training to be a music therapist, I studied a lot of child development theories and find a lot of my clinical work relates back to these, especially when working in early years. I would describe my approach to work in early years as being informed by the work of Daniel Stern and John Bowlby.

So how does music therapy help children to develop their communication and speech?
First of all when working in early years I spend a while assessing them, talking to their parents about them and getting to know them. I test how they respond to various instruments and usually try singing some nursery rhymes to engage them. I use lots of anticipation in my music in order to create excitement and sustain attention. I may often spend several weeks working with the child getting to know them and developing their attention span in order to build trust and develop the therapeutic relationship before focusing specifically on the voice/communication. However there is no ‘one size fits all’ as music therapy is so client led, it depends entirely on the client.

When working to develop speech and communication skills I focus specifically on any sounds that the child can make, or if they can’t make sounds I focus on their mouth movements. I will often use well known nursery rhymes and leave gaps in the songs using anticipation to give the child a chance to fill in the gap however they would like to. Often i will leave a long gap as some children’s processing speed may be slower than others. Once the child starts to make sounds or mouth movements, I will reflect these back showing acknowledgement of their sounds. Starting by reflecting the sound or movement in exactly the same way and then gradually developing this by changing the speed, pitch or volume. This will often lead to a call and response style interaction between the child and myself and it is through developing these interactions that we are able to have musical conversations and develop communication and speech. I also work closely with parents/carers encouraging them to mirror the childs sounds or mouth movements at home in order to continue practising the skills.

Does it really work?
Yes definitely! Given enough time. I have one particular child who I would like to mention here, I will call him H for confidentiality reasons. I worked with H aged 2 at a children’s hospice. He had spent the first year of his life in hospital and had a tracheostomy which mum believed was preventing him from speaking. After a few sessions I realised that H needed to develop his confidence in using his voice. We started by working with bubbles and singing songs related to blowing bubbles in order to help H to gain confidence in using his mouth the way he would to produce sounds, and then we worked with an instrument called a reed horn which produces a unique, interesting sound and I encouraged H to blow the reed horn. After several weeks H began to make little sounds which I mirrored back to him, and then in one extremely memorable session H said ‘mama’! Which was a significant moment for both his mum (who was in the session) and I as he said his first word! Proof music therapy helps to develop confidence in using the voice enough to develop speech.

Are there any other benefits to working in early years?
Working in early years does not only help with communication and speech, it also helps to develop skills such as turn taking, listening, attention span and also promotes healthy family relationships.

Do you run early years groups as well as individual sessions?
Yes, I have lots of experience of running music therapy groups for early years. I run one at a children’s hospice and am also in the process of setting up a music therapy group for under 5s with special needs in Chelmsford. In fact there will be a free taster session taking place on 27th March, why not register your interest here:

March 27th | 10:30 – 11:30: Under 5s Music Therapy Taster Session 1
March 27th | 12:00 – 13:00: Under 5s Music Therapy Taster Session 2

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