October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a time to remind people what Down Syndrome is and what can be done to help those affected by it. Down Syndrome is a condition caused by a chromosomal abnormality, and children with it have impaired cognitive ability and developmental disabilities. In the United States, around 5,000 babies are born with Down every year.
Music therapy can be an invaluable help to children with Down Syndrome. Studies have shown numerous benefits. Music therapy can improve cognitive skills, as well as memory, social development, and hand-eye coordination. And now music studios all over the country are using their resources to start programs geared toward kids with Down.
Sound Stage 9 is one of those studios. They’ve partnered with the Down Syndrome Coalition for El Paso, Texas to provide music classes that are specifically tailored for children with Down. The two organizations saw a need in their community because there are few extracurricular activities available for those kids.
“It’s so amazing to see the power that music has,” said Manny Martinez, general manager of Sound Stage 9, in a conversation with KFOX 14. “People always say how powerful music is, but it’s such a wonderful tool that for those who don’t have a voice, music provides it for them.”
The Robert E. and Evelyn McKee Foundation provided Sound Stage 9 with a grant, which allows kids to take their music classes for free. The studio offers classes in piano, voice, and drums.
“The most rewarding thing is just kind of seeing their faces and honestly watching them grow and starting their own musical journeys,” said Martinez.
The Lone Star School of Music in Austin, TX also provides music therapy classes for children with Down Syndrome. According to their website, music can improve a child’s understanding of movement and timing, and working on rhythm in particular can help with motor skills. Music can also improve a child’s speech by helping with articulation.
Lone Star points out that kids with Down Syndrome have difficulty controlling their muscles, which is why they often stick out their tongue when they speak. A simple musical mirroring exercise can help with that.
“Mirror songs allow kids to be able to correct this behavior,” says Lone Star’s website. “Sit in front of a mirror with the child and look at it (both of you). Start singing! The student can sing with you and use the mirror to copy how you use your tongue when you sing.”
Tuned Into Learning, an organization that provides special education songs and curriculum for music therapists, suggests several other musical exercises that can benefit children with Down. They advise teaching piano to help with fine motor skills, and to color code the notes and the keys. They also recommend chanting math facts, counting, and saying letter sounds, difficult words, and phrases to a rhythmic beat, and then having the child mimic what you’re doing.
“Create pictures that go along with verses in a song and have your student put them in order as the song is sung,” suggests Tuned Into Learning on their website. “The Eensy Weensy Spider for example could be paired with pictures of a spider, rain, and sun.”
Watch the KFOX 14 report on the benefits of music therapy for Down Syndrome here.