Music Therapy for Clients with Speech and Language Disorders

Music therapy is an effective tool for prompting responses or development in clients with various speech and language disorders.

What are Speech and Language Disorders?

Speech disorders and language disorders can vary across age groups and people, and can be caused by a range of different things.  These disorders impact those diagnosed with them by impairing their ability to communicate. Although speech disorders and language disorders are commonly grouped together due to their overlap in treatment and symptoms, they are slightly different. Clients with speech disorders can struggle with speech sounds or vocal clarity. Their rhythm of speech may be disrupted, which can present in the form of stuttering. People with speech disorders may struggle with articulation or pitch, as well as speech sounds. People with language disorders struggle more with the construction of language, both in their own speech and the speech of others. They may not be able to use words properly, express their ideas, or reflect grammar rules when they speak. 

According to a report done by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in 2016, 7.7%, approximately 1 in 12 children, had been diagnosed with a speech or swallowing disorder. Some common speech disorders include aphasia, alalia, stuttering, lisping, and muteness. While the cause of these disorders is often unknown, they can be caused by brain damage due to injury, substance use, or neurological disorders. Physical impairments such as cleft palate can also cause speech and language disorders. In addition, those diagnosed with speech disorders, dementia and Alzheimers can also benefit from music therapy. 

No matter what specific struggles they have, it can be extremely difficult for clients with speech disorders to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Speech disorders can also interrupt the education of clients. Early intervention is key to making sure these disorders don’t cause an unclosable separation between the client and their academic or social lives. A common (early) intervention is a speech-language pathologist, but another viable option is music therapy.

Who Can Benefit? 

A variety of different speech disorders can be helped through the use of music therapy. 

One group of clients with speech disorders that music therapy has been proven to help is people with aphasia. Aphasia is a communication disorder that is often a direct result of a stroke, but it can also be caused by brain injuries or neurological disorders. Aphasia impacts an affected client’s ability to find the words they’re looking to say and disrupts their language. 

Another group of people who can benefit from music therapy are children who display speech delays. Children with a speech delay, or alalia, don’t make expected or “normal” progress towards speaking at the level that is appropriate for their age. A paper called “The Effect Music has in Speech Therapy” investigated the use of music in speech-language pathologists’s interventions with people diagnosed with speech and language disorders. This paper showed a strong correlation between music used in speech-language therapy and had positive results.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

What Interventions are Used?

Due to how many speech and language disorders there are and how much they vary,  interventions must be geared specifically towards each client. For this reason, there is often an intervention that may work very well for one specific speech or language disorder. Speech-language pathologists and music therapists can work hand in hand to develop and execute these interventions to help clients recover their speech and communication skills. 

For patients who have aphasia as a result of a stroke, medical rehabilitation measures are important. They attempt to cushion the damage to the brain. In addition to this rehabilitative medicine, music therapy is a tool that can help these clients regain control over their speech and language. In the case of these clients with aphasia, speech-language pathologists decided to turn to  music therapy when they discovered that their clients were unable to repeat sentences back to them in plain speech, but they were able to sing the sentence. The SLP’s were able to help the clients work through this sing-song speech over time and turn it into regular (talking) speech.  

A common language disorder in children is a speech delay, which is characterized as a child not developing language and communication skills at the rate they are expected to. Often these children struggle to sync their language with the conversational rhythm of everyday chatter. Fortunately, music is something that always has some type of steady observable rhythm. A 2010 study has shown that music improves the cognitive development of children that are delayed in their speech progress. The same study showed faster improvement in the speech delays in children that listened to music frequently than children who didn’t. It is important that the music played is at the appropriate level for children. These songs should be simple and have short lyrics in them so they are simple and easy to comprehend for the children. If they’re unable to properly understand and process the lyrics, then the music won’t help their speech development improve. Repetitive and catchy songs with hard consonants have proven to be the most effective in improving the speech development of speech delayed children.

To Sum it Up

To conclude, speech-language pathologists almost always come to mind when considering ways to help clients with diagnosed speech and language disorders. Speech-language pathologists are very effective and helpful on their own, but SLP’s in conjunction with music therapy is a wonderful combination. The reason this combination is so strong is that the relationship between music and language is very unique and intertwined. Both of them include vocal and auditory components and are relatively universal. Language also utilizes aspects that are more commonly associated with music, such as rhythm and pitch. At its very core, the crossover of speech-language pathology and music is a match made in heaven, and when put to use with clients, it makes a world of difference. 

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Abbey Farina
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