Music has always popularly been viewed as an emotional medium. It affects our mood, emotions, and feelings, but on the contrary, can also affect our brain function. The Frontiers in Neuroscience states that music production is “ a highly complex task that requires the human brain to strongly link perception and action.” Creating music is not only beneficial for one’s motor skills and creativity but can also amplify cognitive development. It has been used in a number of treatments for mental and neurological illnesses, one of which is Down Syndrome.
Individuals with Down Syndrome experience delays in cognitive functions such as speech and language development. Children with down syndrome have difficulties with auditory perception and processing, issues with articulation, and struggle to learn language rules. Some may even experience hearing loss, visual defects, or motor delay. However, music therapy has been used to help children with disabilities for the past four decades (Pienaar, 2012). Rhythm, melody, harmony, pitch, loudness, and sound are essential parts of music that can be integrated into speech-language programs for those with down syndrome.
Communication involves speech, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and tone. Music therapists perceive communication and social interaction as essential to therapy, especially for those who find verbal language and a means of expressing themselves challenging. Early intervention programs such as music therapy have shown to be successful in promoting language and reading development. People with Down syndrome often have difficulty articulating personal narratives. Personal narratives are described as “descriptions of past events that have been experienced by the speaker and are one of the most frequently used and earliest developing types of narration in children with typical language development” (Finestack et al., 2017). Children are expected to be capable of producing personal narratives by the time they enter the school system (Finestack et al., 2017). An advantage of music therapy for people with down syndrome is that they are given a nonverbal medium with which they can express emotions and ideas.
The gateway for using music for medical, therapeutic, and scientific methods is just being discovered. With further contributions and advances, we may see more mental and neurological illnesses such as Down Syndrome treated with the aid of music. Down Syndrome Education International provides a number of resources on their site concerning opportunities for people with down syndrome to enroll in music or dance programs.
Finestack, L. f., O’Brien, K. H., Hyppa-Martin, J., & Lyrek, K. A. (2017). The Evaluation of a Personal Narrative Language Intervention for School-Age Children With Down Syndrome. American Journal On Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 122(4), 310-332. doi:10.1352/1944-7558-122.4.310
Pienaar, D. (2012). Music Therapy for Children with Down Syndrome: Perceptions of Caregivers in a Special School Setting. Kairaranga, 13(1), 36-43.
Paquette, S., & Mignault Goulet, G. (2014). Lifetime benefits of musical training. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 8, 89. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2014.00089