Music therapy for the developmentally disabled.


Music therapy is perceived to be one of the most important service modality in the area of special education (IDEA, 1997). Therapists have defined the concept of music therapy  “. . .the use of music as a therapeutic tool for restoration, maintenance, and improvement of psychological, mental and physiological health and for the habilitation, rehabilitation, and maintenance of behavioral, developmental, physical and social skills – all within the context of a client-therapist relationship” (Boxill, 1985, p. 5). Music therapy significantly contributes to the success of education of those students having special needs since such disable learners require special instructional tools and treatment. Music has traditionally been used as method for healing given its ability to neutralize negative feelings among the disables, harmonization of the inner peace, and increasing one’s stress tolerance level. For these reasons, music therapy is therefore a powerful treatment for those learners who are crippled by different bio-psychosocial and cognitive challenges (Sidorenko, 2000). In addition, music therapy significantly contributes to the improvement of the living standards for disability persons in the society at large.

The Individual with Disability Act (IDEA) require learning institutions to provide the disable students with related equipment and services to realize the goal of “free and desirable” public education for all. Following the enactment of the NCLB Act (No Child Left Behind), the Department of Education of the U.S. has focused on evidence based education research aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of academic achievement and educational intervention (Boxill, 1995). Both special and regular education instructors are accorded increased responsibilities particularly for those learners who are having special needs. A number of recent studies have established that music therapy positively impact on the cognitive development of students, thereby improving their academic potentials. To the teachers and students in inclusive learning environments, music is becoming a very powerful and important learning kit. Music plays a fundamental role in the inclusion of disable students by making the previously impossible or difficult tasks feasible (Pratt, 1991).

Over the last decade, researchers have developed interest in understanding the contribution of music to academic development and growth of students with disabilities. Given the growing interest in this field, majority of these researches have focused on medicine and musical therapy powers, usefulness of the expressive arts and music, and the ability of music in the treatment of behavioral and emotional disorders in children (Pelliten, 2000). Very limited researchers have been conducted on the contribution of music to mental retardation (MR), autism, learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and health impairments.

Disability students in the inclusive learning institutions are subjected to music classes in addition to the normal academic system. Music is effectively integrated to nearly all the content areas of formal learning in order to create a conductive and favorable learning environment that is enjoyable to the disable students, thus, creating the vigor and desire to learn more. Collett (1992) was the first to report a successful and effective music integrated education curriculum that has since worked well with special needs and bilingual students. According to Houchens (1983), a music integrated academic system provides the learners with concrete and hands-on education experiences that are critical in developing each learner’s reasoning, problem-solving, thinking, and analytical skills as well as enhancing their creativity and innovativeness.  A number of studies conducted have suggested the introduction of music therapy particularly on learners with cognitive disabilities.

Straum (n.d) recommended the application of music therapy to help learners suffering from autism disorders in their language and social development. Through the power of music and singing, autism children have been able to eliminate monotonic speeches by singing songs that are composed to match the stress, flow, sentence infection, and rhythms followed by the gradual musical cue fading. Straum (n.d) further argued that music therapy can be deployed as an educational tool aimed at encouraging human development in learning, cognitive, motor, emotional, perceptual, and social development. Another related study by Stambough (1996) conducted on Williams Syndrome suffering students established that several techniques and strategies coupled with patience were essential in accommodating the specialized needs of such students. Other researchers, on the other hand, made suggestions on the important steps for the facilitation and integration of learners with behavioral and emotional disabilities into regular music therapy classrooms. A research finding by King & Schwabenlender (1994) revealed that a number of supportive strategies are essential in promoting emotional and psy-social well-being of the learners drawn from diverse backgrounds. The study also asserted that allowing learners to be more musically expressive is an essential empowerment tool for the learning disability.

Special education instructors and tutors have for a long time applied music therapy to assess the emotional and alter the moods of the learners. Such musical expressions allow the learners to invent emotions, hence viewed as one of the integral parts of the disable children’s education lives. In the view of Brunk and Coleman (2000), children suffering from disabilities enjoy singing, humming, and listening to music. Music, therefore, enhances the ability of disable learners to effectively cope with stress and other challenges that arises from their psychological and physical conditions. Giles, Cogan, & Cox (1991), established that integrating music and literature helps in bringing books alive as well as encouraging children to actively participate in the learning activities without experiencing major challenges. The three authors, therefore, rooted for the implementation of a music curriculum targeting both inclusive and regular students as a way of improving the quality of education in general.

Perry (2003) recognized that songs and other musical instruments have a positive contribution to the academic development of disable learners, through reinforced musical therapy sessions. Although Perry (2003) does not regard music as a therapy, she argues that the use of music in education is attributed to the strong positive relationship between the learners and therapist that serves as a key element in music therapy. As music integrated special education system has for decades been applied in Australia and the result has been very promising. In Australia, improvised and pre-composed songs are used accompanied by improvised musical accompaniments closely related to kids’ responses.

In addition, voice and musical instruments were applied in synchronous class interactions and turn taking. Daveson and Edwards (1998) revealed that goals and primary objectives of musical therapists are congruent and consistent with the outlines special education goals. The music therapists, therefore, claim that inclusion of music therapy lessons would be fundamental step in achieving academic success among the students with special needs. However, the effectiveness of such programs depends on the anecdotes.

Erdonmez (1991) explored different but relevant literatures on the efficacy and effectiveness of music therapy among different learning groups with different disabilities. He finding showed that music has a significant impact on stereotypical behaviors that include rocking, and that learners of profound intellectual or mental disability responded effectively to voice as compared to musical instruments, hence a likelihood of vocalization.  A research by Green, et al. (1991) that targeted those children with multiple disabilities established that neither soft music nor rock music was one of the preferred stimuli for the assessed students. Reviews on music therapy (published in clinical and medical journals 1983-1990) concluded that “. . . there is a general absence of valid clinical research material from which substantive conclusions can be dawn. “It requires no further scientific investigation to support its incorporation as part of a treatment plan.” (Aldridge, 1993, p. 29).


3.1 Introduction

This chapter will cover the description and details on the study will be carried out, including data collection, research design, data analysis, presentation, and populations of the study.

3.2 Research Design

This proposed study will use exploratory research design since lots of information concern the research problem (music therapy in special education) will be explored and read. The choice of exploratory design is founded on the fact that this proposed study will rely on both qualitative and theoretical data.

3.3 Population of the Study

This study will target the leading special education and disability institutions in U.S. This is based on the fact that it is such institutions that have a practical experience providing education and caring for these students with special needs. The desired population of the study will include institutional managers, care providers, music therapists, and educational specialists.

3.4 Sampling Technique

This proposed study will employ purposive sampling technique where samples will be drawn from the desired population of the study. This is aimed at providing the researcher with the relevant and first hand information concerning music therapy and its contribution on the performance of students/children diagnosed with disabilities. This method is preferred because it is not biased and gives equal probability to all the respondents to be included in the study sample.

3.5 Sample Size

Using the statistical concept of n>0.3N (Khan, 2011), the study proposes to include a sample of 10 special education and inclusive learning institutions in U.S. that have incorporated music therapy in their curriculum. The respondents from these selected institutions will be randomly selected, making a total of 100 participants drawn from the education experts, therapists, and disability centers.

3.6 Data Collection Methods

This study will rely on both primary and secondary data. Secondary data that entail already made available information pertaining to the subject of the study will be collected from secondary journals, books, institutional websites, internet, newspapers, among other secondary data sources that are perceived reliable and credible. Primary data on the other hand will be collected through questionnaires and interview schedules. This method of data collection is preferred over the rest since it aids in the provision of primary data that are more effective and reliable for the study (Khan, 2011).

3.7 Data Analysis

Since this study is qualitative and quantitative, inferential and descriptive statistics will be used to analyze the collective data. Qualitative data collected in the study will specifically be analyzed using grounded theory methods. Open coding will be used to categorize and name the data, while selective coding will be used to develop a more generalized framework to the study. Quantitative data on the other hand will be analyzed using SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences) version 21 given its ability to produce detailed and comprehensive analytical frameworks. The relationship will be presented using regression, correlation, and measures of central tendency. Besides, the data collected through questionnaires will be classified on the basis of common attributes and then tallied to obtain statistical frequencies. The data will be presented using tables, graphs, and chats. The research hypotheses will be tested using a regression model between the dependent and independent variable and also using t-statistics to determine the acceptance or rejection rule (Khan, 2011).













Aldridge, D. (1993). Music therapy research: A review of the medical research literature within a general context of music therapy research. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 20, 11–35.

Boxill, E. H. (1995). Music therapy for the developmentally disabled. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Brunk, B. K., & Coleman, K. A. (2000). Development of a special education music therapy assessment process. Music Therapy Perspectives, 18, 59–68.

Daveson, B., & Edwards, J. (1998). A role for music therapy in special education. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 45, 449–457.

Erdonmez, D. (1991). Music therapy – the evidence. The Australian Journal of Music Therapy, 2, 12–24.

Giles, M. M., Cogan, D., & Cox, C. (1991). A music and art program to promote emotional health in elementary school children. Journal of Music Therapy, 28, 135-148.

Green, C. W., Reid, D. H., Canipe, V. S., & Gardner, S. (1991). A comprehensive evaluation of reinforce identification processes for persons with profound multiple handicaps. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 537–552.

Hodges, D. (1980). Neurophysiology and musical behavior. In D.A. Hodges (Ed.), Handbook of Music Psychology (pp.195-224). Dubuque, IA: National Association for Music Therapy.

Houchens, C. J. (1983). A personal adjustment curriculum for secondary behaviorally disordered students. Paper presented at the Minnesota Conference on Programming for the Development needs of Adolescents with Behavioral Disorders. Minneapolis, MN.

IDEA (1997). The Individuals with Disabilities Act Amendments of 1997. Retrieved March 9, 2004 from Web site:

Khan, J. A. (2011). Research Methodology. New Delhi, APH Publishing Corporation, 65-130.

King, R. P., & Schwabenlender, S. A. (1994). Supportive therapies for EBD and at-risk students: Rich, varied, and underused. Preventing School Failure, 38(2), 13-18.

Moyer, J. (1990). Whose creation is it, anyway? Childhood Education, 66, 130-131.

Nordoff, P., & Robbins, C. (1985). Therapy in music for handicapped children. London: Gollancz.

Pelliteri, J. (2000). The consultant’s corner: Music therapy in the special education setting. Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation, 11 (3/4), 379-392.

Pellitteri, J. (2000). Music therapy in the special education setting. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 11, 379–391.

Perry, M. M. R. (2003). Relating improvisational music therapy with severely and multiply disabled children to communication development. Journal of Music Therapy, 40, 227–245.

Pratt, R. R. (1991). Music education and medicine. Music Educators Journal, 77(5), 31-37.

Rodocy, R., & Boyle, J. D. (1988). Psychological foundations of musical behavior (2nd ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas.

Shennum, W. A. (1987). Expressive activity therapy in residential treatment: Effects on children’s behavior in the treatment milieu. Children & Youth Care Quarterly, 16, 81-90.

Sidorenko, V. N. (2000). Clinical application of medical resonance therapy music in high-risk pregnancies. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral science, 35(3), 199-207

Stambough, L. (1996). Special learners with special abilities. Music Educators Journal, 83(3), 19-24.

Staum, M. J. (n.d.). Music therapy and language for the autistic child. Retrieved December 12, 2003, from Willamette University, Salem, Oregon Web site:


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