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Bridgewater State University Virtual Commons - Bridgewater State University Honors Program Theses and Projects Undergraduate Honors Program 12-18-2014 Music Therapy and Communication Disabilities: Singing, Speech, and the Brain Jennifer Drake Follow this and additional works at: http://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj Part of the Special Education and Teaching Commons Recommended Citation Drake, Jennifer. (2014). Music Therapy and Communication Disabilities: Singing, Speech, and the Brain. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 74. Available at: http://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/74 Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Drake This item is available as part of Virtual Commons, the open-access institutional repository of Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Music Therapy and Communication Disabilities: Singing, Speech, and the Brain Jennifer Drake Submitted in Partial Completion of the Requirements for Interdisciplinary Honors in Music and Special Education Bridgewater State University December 18, 2014 Dr. Jean L. Kreiling, Thesis Director Dr. Edward Carter, Committee Member Dr. Donald Running, Committee Member Music therapy interventions, especially singing, can aid those with communication disorders to attain and develop verbal and non-verbal communication and language skills, as well as functional social skills. Throughout my own interactions with those with communication impairments, I have witnessed many individuals who struggle with typical speech, but are better able to communicate when music is involved. For instance, a young boy with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) who does not typically speak independently or when prompted is able to sing every word to familiar songs on the radio that he enjoys. Such evidence of the positive effect that music can have on one’s communication skills has motivated me to further research the field of music therapy, with a concentration in singing. Research and observations reveal the relationships among music, communication, and the brain, and the ways in which related pathways within the brain can modify themselves, in response to therapeutic interventions, to accommodate one’s communication disabilities. Unfortunately, there is a limited amount of research within the field of music therapy involving interventions for specific communication disorders, as well as limited findings related to the effectiveness of existing music therapy interventions. However, the field of music therapy has made significant contributions towards helping people with communication disabilities. This paper will discuss existing research and include an overview of the field of music therapy, a discussion of the concept of neuroplasticity, and notes on personal experiences and my observations of a professional music therapist. 1 I. Overview of music therapy Because having difficulties with communication and language skills is such a significant aspect of several disabilities, professionals in special education and related fields work hard to incorporate speech and language interventions into academic instruction. Many of the academic goals within a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) reflect the explicit effort to provide as many opportunities as possible for special education students to be exposed to language, including music therapy interventions. Musical activities can provide children with motivating, comfortable, and stimulating opportunities to work on improving their communication and language abilities. Music therapy can be considered a means of using music to achieve a non-musical goal. Goals addressed in music therapy sessions range from learning how to cut with scissors, to learning to walk at a consistent pace, to being able to respond verbally when asked a question. Interventions used in music therapy sessions are based on clinical experiences as well as qualitative and quantitative research evidence and are designed to address the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical needs of clients. Treatment plans typically involve creating, moving to, listening to, and singing to music. Skills that are improved within music therapy sessions are then transferred and focused towards improving other areas of life. For example, a preschool child who has learned to play a mallet instrument as a means of working on the non-musical goal of improving fine motor skills may then begin to improve upon his or her coloring skills within the setting of the preschool classroom.