Music Therapy for Children With Developmental Disabilities

Children with developmental disabilities may benefit from various types of interventions, including speech therapy, physical therapy, tutoring and academic or emotional counseling. Music therapy serves a specific role in that it fosters creativity and relaxation while also potentially boosting processing skills, fine motor skills and social skills. When considering music therapy, select a credentialed professional music therapist who has experience working with children with special needs.

Therapy Sessions

Most musical therapists utilize diverse techniques when working with clients. They may play music on instruments or play recorded music for listening, pairing with visualization or accompanying an activity. Therapists may have the children compose, accompany, sing to or move along with the music. Sessions may involve children pairing certain learning activities with rhythm, rhyme, beats and musical patterns.

Potential of Music Therapy

The therapists at Prelude Musical Therapy advise that musical therapy can address various types of developmental disabilities, among them mental retardation, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, attachment disorder, autism, Rett Syndrome and Williams Syndrome.


Musical therapy may stimulate cognition, foster linguistic ability, boost interaction and support emotional control in special needs kids. Working with rhythm or playing an instrument can boost physical skills as well. Therapists may use music to spark interest, sustain attention, underscore a key concept, stimulate speech, motivate challenging physical movement, relax the body and refine language.


Children need not have any musical ability to participate successfully in a course of music therapy. Most music therapists use music as the starting point for exploration combined with movement, imagery, literature, games and academic activities. For children who rely on nonverbal communication or who use alternative forms of communicating, therapists use music, song, rhythm and sound to help them convey ideas and emotions.


Children who have been tested and are in a program addressing their special needs typically have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The child’s IEP may encompass support services such as physical therapy, speech therapy, academic tutoring or counseling. Speak with your child’s special education department about the possibility of adding music therapy to the IEP so that your child with special needs can receive these services during the school day. The special education team should be able to coordinate music therapy sessions with other services, aligning developmental goals and supporting classroom instruction.



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