Music Therapy and Rett Syndrome Awareness

Disability a disabled child in a wheelchair having play therapy together with a special needs carer image shows working with physical and mentally handicapped people

The month of October is Rett Syndrome Awareness Month, and we are recognizing how this unknown neurological disorder affects approximately one in 10,000-15,000 female births.  Did your child recently receive a Rett Syndrome diagnosis? What exactly is Rett Syndrome? According to the International Rett Syndrome Foundation, Rett Syndrome is a unique neurodevelopmental disorder which begins to show in infancy or early childhood. It is seen almost exclusively in females, although it can occur rarely in boys.  

As a parent or caregiver of a child suffering from Rett syndrome, you might be witnessing severe impairments which is affecting nearly every aspect of your precious child’s life:  from their ability to speak, walk, eat, and even breathe easily. Maybe you have noticed constant repetitive hand movements. Rett syndrome is usually recognized in children between ages 6 to 18 months as they begin to miss developmental milestones or lose abilities they had gained.  Development appears normal until 6-18 months of age and then a loss of communication and motor abilities begins.

Symptoms Include:

  • Loss of speech
  • Loss of purposeful use of hands
  • Involuntary hand movements such as handwashing
  • Loss of mobility or gait disturbances
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Seizures or Rett “episodes”
  • Scoliosis
  • Breathing issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Slowed rate of growth for head, feet and hands

Living with Rett Syndrome may pose numerous challenges, however, despite the feeling of overwhelm with a diagnosis of Rett Syndrome, you may be interested to know that music therapy might a healing way to connect you with your family member.  As a licensed music therapist, I have been working with children affected by severe disabilities and special needs as well as supporting their caregivers by introducing and integrating music therapy into their treatment plan. 

I am here to help you transform your loved one’s journey from surviving to thriving and you do not have to travel down this road alone.

How can music therapy address the need areas for an individual with Rett Syndrome?

From a research study perspective, here is promising news about music therapy as a tool:  Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital studied 23 families of Rett patients who were receiving regular follow-up care with music therapy, and stated the following findings:  

  • Nonverbal communication improved
  • Social interaction increased
  • Abnormal respiratory patterns lessened
  • Hand-gripping ability improved
  • Eye gazing improved and notable seizure reduction
  • Reduction in parental stress

In addition, research findings showed that music for Rett Syndrome patients can:

  • Increase responsiveness
  • Increase choice making abilities
  • Effectively stimulate, activate and engage
  • Increase self-regulation in girls
  • Improve parent-child interaction
  • Improve social skills
  • Improve motivation and interest

Music therapy sessions can include a variety of activities such as playing eye-catching instruments such as an ocean drum in various positions to assist with visual tracking to the use of pictures of favorite songs/instruments or even singing to your child during choice making activities.  Some other creative possibilities are to add a music instrument sound effects to stories to gain attention and focus. These are just a few examples. Now, you have the choice as a parent or caregiver to give your loved one a chance to overcome, transform and heal!

As a board certified music therapist and nurse and with years of extensive experience, I have created success-based activities that address your child’s developmental skills.  I am honored to be a part of the Music Therapy profession where we are always striving to make sessions fun, musical and healing.  

Reach out and take the first step towards healing and being supported!  Consider starting out with a private session, I currently have some openings for children with Rett Syndrome.  Please feel free to connect with me, if you or someone you know has a child affected by Rett’s Syndrome that needs this kind of therapy.

Music Therapy in Schools

You might be wondering what are the benefits of of applying Music Therapy in our schools?  How would it benefit my child who is struggling with a disability or special need? Music Therapy has proven to be an effective tool in special education for students with various types of disabilities and special needs.  This type of therapy can be used in different ways, depending on each individual child.

Music intervention programs in schools focuses on using music as a way to address the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs of a child.  If you are a parent reading this and/or know of a child/student suffering from autism, celebral palsy, asthma, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and those who lack self-confidence, music has been proven to be helpful.  Music therapy can provide your child with the ability to learn in ways they never have before. For this reason and many others, this type of therapy is extremely effective.  

Music therapy sessions in schools can vary in structure from individual sessions, small group sessions, and services provided in an inclusive classroom.  Music therapy services are provided by Board-Certified Music Therapists (MT-BC) like myself. The goal of Music Therapists is to help the student make progress on educational goals as well as support the parents or caregiver in this process.  

The US Department of Education recognizes Music therapy as a related service under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – that means that if your child requires it, music therapy must be put into the The Individualized Education Program (IEP), with costs covered by the school. The IEP process involves planning and decision making by the IEP team which includes parents/caregivers, students, and therapists.  As a parent you have the right to request an assessment from the school with the support of a Music Therapist.

According to Mary Adamek, Ph.D., Director of the Undergraduate Music Therapy Program at The University of Iowa and the American Music Therapy Association,   Music Therapy interventions designed by credentialed professionals can provide the following benefits: 

• Promote Wellness
• Manage Stress
• Alleviate Pain
• Express Feelings
• Enhance Memory
• Improve Communication
• Promote Physical Rehabilitation 

Studies have shown that Music therapists who work with children with special needs support developmental goals such as:

Speech – Sing songs, to help develop speech sounds and get lots of repetition and avoiding boredom.

Fine and gross motor – Instruments like maracas among many are utilized to improve these skills.

Academic –  Improve recall by placing academic information into a song format.

Social skill development – Engage children in Music therapy groups where they practice greetings, turn taking, eye contact, requesting, etc., through various musical activities.

Behavioral  – Create songs as well as musical stories about appropriate behavior.

Social-Emotional – Teach a child how to sing songs so they learn how to identify feelings and cope with “big” emotions.

As an overwhelmed parent or caregiver, know you don’t have to travel this path alone.  There is support waiting for you! Music therapy builds up a child’s self-esteem and feeds their soul.  Children with special needs and disabilities face so many struggles, so it is important to support them in a nurturing way.  

As a board certified music therapist and nurse and with years of extensive, I have created success-based activities that address your child’s developmental skills.  I am honored to be a part of the Music Therapy profession where we are always striving to make sessions so fun and musical, that clients don’t even realize how hard they are working.  Music Therapy treatment plans can be applied in a school setting, private sessions or in a combination of both. Now that’s a recipe for success!

If you are still reading this and are considering starting out with a private session, I currently have some openings for children and students with Disabilities and Special Needs.  Please feel free to connect with me, if you or someone you know needs this kind of therapy and support with the assessment process at your child’s/student’s school in achieving their educational goals.

Parkinson’s & Music Therapy

A devastating diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) can seem like an overwhelming blow to living a full life.  Many individuals with PD suffer from progressive symptoms such tremors, stiffness or rigidity of the muscles, slowness of movement, and decreased vocal range.  

Have you or a loved one been given this debilitating news?  Or have you been living with Parkinson’s Disease for years and see no way out? Are you experiencing difficulty with moving around your house, independently tackling daily activities like eating and dressing, and being engaged in activities that bring joy to your life? 

Despite the challenges of PD, there is hope to living a fuller life.  One powerful way is through the results I have achieved over the years working with Parkinson’s Disease patients by integrating music and therapy.  Music Therapy can help you manage and overcome your symptoms!  Next, I will discuss the healing benefits of Music Therapy and how it can support you.

Music Therapy:  Physical & Mental Benefits

Studies have shown that applying therapies that involve both moving to music and singing can work to improve PD-related challenges.  Here are a few areas:

  • Balance: Stride length, posture and side-to-side movement can improve with music therapy.
  • Communication: Singing can increase volume and articulation.
  • Cognition: Singing lyrics can improve memory issues.
  • Emotions: Music has been shown to uplift and improve expression.

According to Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, found that when she lead classes of people with Parkinson’s Disease by applying Music Therapy consisting of vocal exercises and singing, the following results were achieved:

  • Increased muscle activity and control
  • Improved breathing and swallowing
  • Improved posture

Additional benefits of incorporating Music Therapy in your daily routine and rehabilitation protocol includes:

  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Improves language development and learning
  • Increases brain connectivity
  • Increases spatial awareness
  • Decreases anxiety, anger, stress, and frustration
  • Improves concentration and motivation

Music Therapy has also proven to have a positive impact not just on class participants but also on caregivers, families, and friends in coping with Parkinson’s Disease.  

Are you ready to embark upon a healing journey of singing your way through Parkinson’s Disease? Hope is here!  Give Music Therapy a shot! 

I am a board certified music therapist and have been specializing in helping people with Parkinson’s Disease for an extensive number of years.  I am here to elevate my patients to new heights in their recovery process through the wonderful medium of Music Therapy.  

I currently have some openings for seeing patients with Parkinson’s Disease and providing the support you need in order to live a fuller life. Please feel free to connect with me if you or someone you know needs this kind of therapy.

Journaling: A Beginner’s Guide

Journaling can be a valuable tool, but is overwhelming for many. What should you write about? How do you get started? Is it better for it to be handwritten or typed, perhaps via an app on your phone? There are no right answers – do what’s best for you.

“Step 1: Decide What to Write About

In order to figure this out, you’ll have to answer why you want to keep a journal in a first place….Ultimately, to get the full emotional benefit of journaling, it’s best to tell a narrative, not just recap your day, and write through your emotions. Write about a few things that happened during the day and, more importantly, how those events, epiphanies, or interactions made you feel. If you’re trying to journal your way through distress, it may help to focus your writing on positive outcomes as well.”

Click here to read the rest of this article – great thoughts and tips to help get you started.


Music Therapy for Children with Decreased Vision or Hearing

Do you have or know of a child with decreased vision and/or hearing? You’re likely not surprised to know that Music Therapy can be extremely beneficial for these kids! As a licensed Music Therapist, I can work with the family and the child’s healthcare team to effect real change in the child’s quality of life.

Music therapists use the structure and sensory input inherent in music to help create positive experiences and effect change in behavior. Music creates a change in the brain…it lights up the entire brain! It addresses multiple developmental and physical issues simultaneously to provide success-oriented opportunities for achievement and mastery.

Music creates tactile stimulation. For example, when a cymbal is struck, the vibrations can be felt by touching the cymbal. When a djembe drum is played, the body feels the vibrations, especially through the floor. Music can be felt, not just heard – this is important for children with impairments in hearing.

For children with sight and/or hearing impairments, basic skills can be hard to learn. A Music Therapist can work with the child to provide sensory stimulation, increase self-awareness, develop awareness of others (even in the absence of sound), increase attention span, increase the accuracy of motor skills, improve social interaction, and provide a means of emotional expression. (taken from Lucille Cormier)

The Music Therapy Center of California lists the “need areas” of children with hearing and/or sight impairment as the following and explains how Music Therapy can help with each:

Speech/Communication – The ability to communicate is, perhaps, the most important for children who are sight and/or hearing impaired. Music Therapy can allow these children to learn and develop communication skills by increasing vocalizations/speech patterns, pairing with sign language, and providing choice-making opportunities There are also great Braille music resources that aid in literacy through music experience.

Motor Skills – Music Therapy can provide opportunities to facilitate purposeful movement, allowing children to gather sensory information, communicate, and make choices. For example, the Music Therapist can create “walking music” that provides a steady beat. The music provides structure and can be used as a cue to start or stop. Co-treatment with a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or orientation and mobility specialist (O&M) enhances the effectiveness of music therapy and ensure that skills may be applied to other settings.

Social – Music Therapy provides an opportunity for social training by hearing and/or sight impaired children a positive experience with other peers and adults. This provides a success-oriented, normalized experience for children, giving them a more positive self-image. By participating in music groups and performances, the children feel more productive and engaged within society.

Cognitive –Teaching the whole body through body movements in order to perceive vibrations, rhythms, dynamics (or any musical element). Movement and music used together to motivate and help children control their own bodies can be a valuable means of expression for a child.

– Watch this Music Therapist work with a deaf and blind client using “haptics” – non-verbal communication through touch! She’s playing Debussy!

– See this Music Therapist as she works with sight and hearing -impaired children.

– Watch as a girl with the rare conditions Lebers Amaurosis and Joubert Syndrome explores the world through music – it’s inspiring to watch her progression over many months!

It’s my hope that these examples will give you insight into Music Therapy as a part of the treatment for your hearing and/or sight impaired child!

Kim McMillin

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Board Certified Music Therapist
I am passionate about helping others to find the goodness within them and to heal the barriers that prevent them from embracing the Light of Goodness inside. Each of us comes into this world as a magnificent Sun. What often trips us up is that we learn to identify with the clouds -- ugly things...

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