Music Therapy Enhances The Lives of People With Down Syndrome

Improving the lives of incredible, extraordinary people with music.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States. It affects 6,000 babies born every year. Mathematically, this correlates to one in every 700 babies in the United States.

What is Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder in which a child inherits an extra chromosome either from the mother or father. This causes the child to have some mental disabilities. There are three main types of Down syndrome:

  • Trisomy 21: 95% of the world’s population has Trisomy 21. This is when each cell in the body has 3 copies of chromosome 21 instead of 2.
  • Translocation Down syndrome: Only about 3% of the population has this. This occurs when an extra or part of chromosome 21 is present, but attached to a different chromosome.
  • Mosaic Down syndrome: The most rare type of Down syndrome. Some of their cells have 3 copies of chromosome 21, but other cells only have 2.

Extra Health Problems

The extra chromosome can affect physical features and cause developmental challenges. A person with Down’s is often recognizable because facial construction is affected. Most of the time, there are no other birth defects. Some more health problems arise due to Down’s. These include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Ear infections
  • Eye diseases
  • Heart defects which are present at birth

This girl is listening to music. She is learning how to work on her social and communication skills through music therapy.

Music Therapy and Down Syndrome

Music therapy is a type of therapy that intertwines music with its therapeutic techniques. Music therapy is proven to help people with Downs to improve the following:

  • Social and communication skills
  • Motor, movement, and coordination skills
  • Memory and learning skills

Research supports evidence that proves that music therapy helps to benefit memory, communication, and social skills.

Social and Communication Skills

Some of the ways it helps kids with Down’s to better communicate is through group music lessons. Group music lessons help the kids to have proper social interaction, encourage positive social development, and increase their self-esteem. By having a group setting, this helps the kids to get to know one another, hence strengthening their social skills. It also helps them to feel like they are more productive and can make a contribution to society. 

Motor, Movement, and Coordination Skills

Kids with Down’s have a harder time understanding the concept of movement and timing. Rhythm helps improve those skills. The repetition of tasks helps improve their motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Music also helps with articulation and pacing. Music therapy is also proven to help kids with Down’s to develop fine-motor skills. It also improves self-help skills, upper extremity strength, and coordination. 

Muscle control is also a concept that people with Down’s struggle with. It is typically more prevalent in children. People with Down syndrome tend to stick out their tongues when they talk due to the lack of muscle control. A helpful musical trick is to sit down with a child in front of a mirror and teach him or her to sing a song. He or she can copy the movements made with the instructor’s mouth. This helps to improve the speech impediment of the child and helps them to stop sticking their tongues out when they speak. 

Memory and Learning

By combining lessons into songs, children with Down syndrome have an easier time learning and remembering concepts. It’s been proven that combining important information into a song helps improve memory and cognitive abilities in people with Down syndrome.

By repeating songs over and over, it helps people with Down’s to strengthen their memories. Music makes this more fun and entertaining for them. 

Music therapy is also used as a mnemonic device that helps people with Down syndrome to remember important small details. Details include things like remembering phone numbers, addresses, and other factual information that is harder for people with Down’s to remember in comparison to someone without it.

These two are enjoying a lovely outdoor concert together. 

Proof that Music Therapy Works

Studies have shown that there are many different methods that prove music therapy to be beneficial to those with Down syndrome. 

In an article written by Sue Buckley, a licensed music therapist from New Zealand named Julie Wylie came to visit Down Syndrome Education International. She worked with the clients in a couple ways. 

Wylie explained that children with Down syndrome have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings. One of her methods that she used with the clients was teaching them to dance. She explained that the rhythm of dance allows children with Down’s to express pleasure and the ability to express themselves. 

In another article written by Judy Barker, researchers explain the benefits of singing for Down syndrome clients. Singing is one of the most beneficial methods of music therapy for people with Down syndrome. Singing allows for reinforcement of academic learning. The most common form of reinforcement is repetition, which happens to be a problem area for people with Down’s. Singing helps construct phrases and sentences in children with Down syndrome, which allows them to keep up with their assigned reading levels. Children with Down’s have a slower rate for remembering words which impacts their reading ability. Singing repetitive songs such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” helps them construct sentences and phrases, which later helps them read better to keep up with children of their own age.

Barker explains that another benefit of singing is that it helps people with Down syndrome to better articulate their words. Children with Down’s sometimes have difficulty speaking. Singing allows children to improve their phonation. By singing, they articulate and sing every syllable without even realizing it. Phonological awareness makes identifying rhyme and onset much easier for Down syndrome clients. Then they have an easier time speaking, which is often a troublesome area for people with Down syndrome.

All in All

People with Down syndrome would really benefit from the powers music therapy can provide for them. To learn more and to find out if music therapy is right for you, please take a look at our many services we provide here at Incadence

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Samantha Damico
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