Music, music therapy, musical abilities and the role of music in the lives of
children and adults with Down syndrome
Are we making full use of music in all its forms?
Buckley SJ. Music, music therapy, musical abilities and the role of music in the lives of
children and adults with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome News and Update. 2006;5(2);53-53.
In October last year, we were very fortunate in having a visit from Julie Wylie,
music therapist from The Champion Centre in New Zealand. Julie, with the help of
Clare Tatterson, a developmental psychologist who was working with us last year
– also from The Champion Centre – offered to put on a music day for children
within reach of The Sarah Duffen Centre in Portsmouth. The children who came to
the music day had a wonderful time, and one parent has decided to consider
making music therapy a career as a result of the inspirational day. We asked
Julie to write an article for us so that we could share her work more widely and
it is the lead article in this issue.
In the article, Julie explains the work she does as a music therapist and
illustrates the way in which music can help children by giving three case
histories of children with Down syndrome. The three children are quite different
from one another in personalities, development and behaviour, and Julie explains
how she used music in different ways with each child.
One centre which has pioneered the development of music therapy in the UK since
the 1950s, the Nordoff-Robbins Centre, describes music as therapy -
'Music is an intrinsic part of all of us: pulse and rhythm are found in our
heartbeat, our breathing and our movement; melody is created in our laughing,
crying, screaming or singing; the whole range of our emotions can be held within
the rhythms and harmonies of different musical styles and idioms. These intimate
connections with music can remain despite disability or illness, and are not
dependent on a musical training or background.
Because of this, music therapists can use music to help children and adults with
a wide range of needs arising from such varied causes as learning difficulties,
mental and physical illness, physical and sexual abuse, stress and terminal
illness. Emotional, cognitive and developmental needs can be addressed through
interactive music making within a secure relationship offered by the music
Music therapy can support the development of children in many ways, as Julie
explains so well in her article. Music, in all its forms, can also provide
expression and pleasure at all ages. Julie draws attention to the possibilities
for expression without words and many young people and adults with Down syndrome
are amazingly skilled and expressive in dance. I am fortunate in being able to
travel widely and I have watched many skilled performers with Down syndrome
dancing in all styles from classical ballet to jive – it only needs the
opportunity and an enthusiastic professional teacher. Even without teachers,
many young people enjoy the disco – disco dancing is my daughter Roberta's
favourite leisure pursuit. She is still as keen at the age of 36 as she was at
16 years of age.
More and more young people with Down syndrome are learning to play musical
instruments. In the UK, an organisation called Melody was started in 2003 to
promote the teaching of music to individuals with learning disabilities. The 6
case histories on the Melody website are all about children and young people
with Down syndrome.
Music to develop spoken language
There is probably a great opportunity to use music in a planned way to help
children and adults to improve their spoken language. I know of one example
where an adult with Down syndrome in her 30s took singing lessons from a
professional teacher and a spin off was more intelligible speech. Readers can
find an article by Judy Barker, a music teacher and parent of a teenager with
Down syndrome, on singing and music to aid language development in Down
Syndrome News and Update 1.3 – available on the website at
Finding the opportunities
It seems that we could be making much more use of music in the lives of our
young people, with benefits for self-expression and behaviour as well as just
enjoyment. We have listed some websites which give information on music therapy
and music opportunities. We know that there are many more organisations out
there offering dance and music – please send us your stories of the value and
enjoyment of music and any contact information that you have for readers in your
DSE's Reading and Language Intervention for Children with Down Syndrome (RLI) is an evidence-based programme designed to teach reading and language skills to children with Down syndrome.
RLI incorporates best practice in structured activities delivered in fast-paced daily teaching sessions. It was evaluated in a randomised controlled trial and found to improve rates of progress compared to ordinary teaching.
Find out more...