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!


Summer’s here and, for many, it’s time to hit the road or the airways for a vacation. However, if someone in your family suffers from a disability or has special needs, the trip can be challenging. I want all families to thoroughly enjoy and have fun on their summer vacation and this month I’d like to offer some guidance about using Music Therapy to make this happen.

It’s important to remember that music is the language of the soul and, therefore, reaches special needs persons in ways that nothing else can. A few of the techniques we use to help special needs persons include:

– Singing
– Song Writing
– Fun Lyrics
– Movement
– Improvisation
– Rhythm
– Playing Instruments

Using these modalities, we can:

– Reduce Anxiety
– Reduce Stress
– Improve Mood Stabilization
– Decrease the heart rate, respiration, and uptake of oxygen
– Facilitate smooth transitions
– Improve social skills

Consider how important it will be to reduce anxiety & stress, improve mood, help with transitions and help regulate breathing & heart rate while travelling! And of course, it’s often disguised as a fun activity!

Before we look at specific ways to use music therapy while on a trip, let’s take a look at some basics of traveling with a special needs person. Here are some reminders of important considerations:

– Car Safety (Car Seats for Children, Child Locks, Limited Distractions…for the special needs person and for the driver, Vehicle Readiness)

– Food (Consider Allergies, Pack a Cooler, Make Stops at “Food Friendly” Stores)

– Seating Arrangements

– Frequent Stops (Including a “Pee Can” …maybe a coffee can…when a stop is not possible)

– Paperwork & Protection (Access Passes, Physician’s Letter, Child Tracking Device, Identify Hospitals and Health Centers…both along the way and at the destination)

– Know Your Limits (Maybe try a short trip first)

– Over- and Under-Stimulation (Prepare a “Sensory Tool Kit” … here’s where Music Therapy really becomes a part of an enjoyable trip!)

Click here to see more tips including ideas for packing, airport tips, a pre-flight checklist and more.


Below, I have some specific tips on how to use music to help your loved one while travelling. If you’re flying or on a train, consider these tips that help in a more crowded public space:

– Prepare a playlist for your special needs companion of his/her favorite songs for a listening device (with headphones).

– Bring along books that they love to look at or read.

– For some (especially those with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), using “Binaural Beats” on a listening device can be a possible solution. ADHDBOSS offers more insight into this.

I hope this is helpful as you plan your summer trips!



Bring along a drum, egg shakers, or a small xylophone. This can be used for calming & soothing during transitions or unexpected delays, drumming along with the radio, and you can play fun tunes you’ve created together.

Use simple tunes for learning and transition:

Create a tune (or use one learned in therapy) for transitions. For example, “Mary had a little lamb” can become “Suzy, it’s time for buckling up, buckling up, buckling up; Suzy, it’s time for buckling up, so we can ride on the plane.”

Create a simple song to identify colors you see while traveling.

Do the same thing for animals…Old McDonald comes to mind


And, what about trains? Many children and adults are fascinated by trains. If traveling by car, search out the trains and sing train songs. You could even create a melody to tell the story of The Little Engine That Could.

It’s helpful (and fun) when all the traveling companions (except perhaps the driver, of course) can participate in these activities.

Have several playlists of your special needs person’s favorite songs, or songs that you know are calming or help with re-focusing.

Consult with a music therapist to increase safety and effectiveness.

Special Needs, Developmental Disabilities and Music Therapy

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  For many children and adults with special needs or developmental disabilities, music is their language!

In the video below, I talk about a few of the ways I use Music Therapy for developmental disabilities.

Music Therapy for Developmental Disabilities

Music can be especially helpful in so many ways for individuals with Developmental Disabilities:

  • Transitioning from one activity to the next…from one life situation to another
  • Increasing social skills and quality of life
  • Creating an ability to learn how to “take turns”

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) suggests a number of other benefits of Music Therapy for people with Developmental Disabilities:

  • Developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships…establishing/reestablishing interpersonal relationships
  • Increasing social interactions
  • Fulfilling basic needs
  • Developing a positive sense of self
  • Dispelling pathological behavior
  • Increasing social competency…the individual’s perceptions about social behavior
  • Developing an awareness, a sensitivity to the beauty of music and using it to enhance all of the above

There are so ways music therapy can improve life skills:

  • Increase sensory-motor skills
  • Improve expressive-receptive language skills
  • Increase cognitive skills
  • Increase problem solving skills
  • Improve social skills
  • Improve auditory and visual-motor skills
  • Increase impulse control
  • Increase the ability to identify and communicate feelings appropriately
  • Improve self-esteem and self-control


  • Create a simple, predictable song for a daily skill (like brushing teeth). Young children love this type of activity (“Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Help Cleanup”), and adults can benefit as well.
  • Have them drum along with a tune you either sing or play (on a guitar, piano, recorder, etc.) l- ike The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
  • Work with them to create their own simple tune…perhaps on a xylophone.
  • Sing together a familiar song (like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Michael Row the Boat Ashore).
  • Together, learn a new song…perhaps about American culture. My Home’s in Montana is a fun one about the American Old West!

2017 Summer Music Therapy Group for Kids!

2017.04 Pediatric Music Therapy Group Flier-page-001ANNOUNCING OUR 2017 SUMMER PEDIATRIC GROUP!

Kim is again partnering with Carla Carnegie to hold a special summer Music Therapy group for kids with special needs! This Music Therapy session is a social setting where children are supported in the following areas:

  • Cognitive: Increasing attention & focus
  • Psycho-social: In the music, learning appropriate social behaviors
  • Emotional: Self-expression, regulation of emotions
  • Physical: Music and movement strengthening gross and fine motor movements encouraging use of the whole body
  • Communication: Singing to increase language accessibility.

When: Fridays 1:30-2:15pm or 2:15-3:00pm from June 30th to August 4th

Where: Willow Song MT Center in Otis Orchards

Cost: $225/person (sibling discounts available)

Limited scholarships are available. 

Register: Register by June 5th to or 509-592-7875

Click here to download the flyer for more details!

Autism Awareness Month – How Music Therapy Can Help

ribbon-largeDo you know someone who is on the Autism Spectrum? Most of us do! Did you know that Music Therapy is a highly effective way of working with children, teens & adults with Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication, social interaction and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities (DSM-5). The National Autism Center has identified Music Therapy as an emerging intervention.

Music is a very basic human response, spanning all degrees of ability and disability. Music Therapists meet clients where they are at and help them to grow from there. The structure and sensory input inherent in music promotes relaxation, learning, and self-expression; addresses multiple developmental issues simultaneously; provides success-oriented opportunities; and, of course, music is motivating and enjoyable!

Research and statistics from the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) report that many individuals with ASD respond positively to music. People with ASD frequently show a heightened interest and response to music, making it an outstanding therapeutic tool for working with them.

Through peer-reviewed journals inside the profession (such as the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives) as well as many detailed articles in journals outside the profession, AMTA has promoted much research exploring the benefits of music therapy with individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. AMTA’s clinical studies focused primarily on the use of music to address Communication Cognition Behaviors, Social Skills, and Interaction Emotional Regulation. (AMTA, 2008)

The following examples are only some of the clinically proven outcomes of AMTA’s research:

  • Music captures and helps maintain attention. It is highly motivating and may be used as a natural reinforcing agent for desired responses. It provides a bridge in a non-threatening setting.
  • Music therapy can stimulate individuals to reduce negative responses and increase participation in more appropriate and socially acceptable ways.
  • Music therapy can help those without verbal language skills to communicate, participate, and express themselves nonverbally but still positively. Very often music therapy also assists in the development of verbal communication, speech, and language skills.

  • Music therapy helps individuals with ASD identify and appropriately express their emotions.

  • Music Therapy provides concrete, multi-sensory stimulation. The rhythmic component of music is very organizing for the sensory systems of individuals diagnosed with autism.
  • Musical elements and structures provide a sense of security and familiarity in a clinical Music Therapy setting.
  • Many people with ASD have innate musical talents. Therefore, clinical Music Therapy provides an opportunity for successful experiences.

Do you want to learn more about how Music Therapy could help your loved one or student who is on the Autism Spectrum? Contact me for a consultation!

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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