Healing with rhythm and melody
Music therapy helps children with autism
by Daisy Lee
In a room filled with playful and catchy melodies, Sam Lawrence sits beside an electric piano, moving along the rhythm played by his music therapist. There are no words but his body movements express the joy he finds.
Sam has a chromosome abnormality, which has ose symptoms resembling those of autism spectrum disorder. His journey with music therapy began when his therapist discovered that he reacted positively with music.Once the therapist discovered that he reacted positively to music, his journey with music therapy started.
Rona Grecia has been Sam’s nursemaid for almost 11 years. After accompanying him in the music therapy sessions for three years, she has seen observed that how music therapy has given Sam a chance to express himself.
Sam has a chromosome abnormality. His Ose symptoms resemble those of autism spectrum disorders.
“He used to react slowly to (his) therapist’s music or instructions, but now I am impressed to see his improvement in interactions. He can even express what instruments and music he likes. Sam is calm and happy when he is with music,” she said.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is effective in improving their interpersonal and communication skills.
Jockey Club Sarah Roe School offers in-house music therapy to children with special needs.
“Children with autism always live in their own world. Music serves like a cue, which can bring their attention back into reality and make them feel connected to the real world,” said Joanne Wu, a music therapist at JCSRS.
“For example, we always play ‘Hello Song’ when a session starts, which serves as a signal and converge (grabs) the children’s attention,” she said.
Ms Wu added that music is a kind of non-verbal communication, which helps children to express themselves.
“During music therapy sessions, they could choose what instruments and music they want. Through making choices and playing instruments in the way they like, their needs of autonomy and self-expression are fulfilled, which help relieve their pent-up emotion emotions,” she said.
Chung King-man, the founder of International Music Therapy Centre, said there are different approaches to music therapy. “It can be presented in active, passive or receptive ways to satisfy patients’ needs at different stages of recovery,” he said.
Mr. Chung also said patients could alleviate their worries and sadness by playing musical instruments, composing songs or simply listening to music.
“Music could not only provide psychological support to patients, but also reduce the physical pain they experience during the treatment,” he said.
Rhythms and melodies can also integrate with other therapies in order to maximize the outcomes. Miss X, who declined to be named, is a speech therapist who has been working in a special needs school for more than 15 years and has witnessed how music assists speech therapy.
“Music is the only thing that can keep their concentrations,” she said. “I felt so amazed when I saw a group of children being so concentrated and obedient at the same time.”
Miss X added that children are more responsive and willing to communicate with others during the session. “Music is their shared interest which facilitates their interactions,” she said.
She believed that students could feel a sense of achievement as they meet teachers’ requirements easily with music.
“Students have become more cooperative even when they are not accompanied by music,” she said. “When they could follow the instructions with music, they realized that they can follow instructions in other lessons.”
Most patients in Hong Kong engage in music therapy through non-government organizations or pay for private services, as most public hospitals do not provide music therapy.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Alexander Lo suggested the situation can be improved if more relevant researches and courses are conducted. He hopes music departments in Hong Kong universities could put more resources in music therapy research.
“It would be helpful if the universities can launch a concentration in music therapy, so that students can be educated and trained properly by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.”,” Dr. Lo said.
(Edited by Alvin Kor & Lindsy Long; video edited by Sharon Shi)