How Music Therapy Helps Children With Down Syndrome

Music therapy consists of the use of music to restore, maintain or improve physical and mental health.

It is a recognized practice, for example, for its effects on memory in Alzheimer’s patients, reducing pain and anxiety in hospitalized people, and even better communication in children with Autism.

Another relationship highly studied by science is its effects and benefits in children with Down Syndromes. Here we review what the experts say and tell you all about this relationship.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that arises when cell division produces an additional total or partial copy of chromosome 21.

Currently, it is not known what causes the presence of chromosome 21. Different changes related to this additional genetic material have been recorded:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • Developmental changes or delays.
  • Difficulties communicating.
  • Low level of initiative.
  • Learning, concentration and communication problems.
  • Trouble sharing emotions.
  • Digestive and cardiac disorders
  • Physical changes: such as flattened face, small head, short neck, upturned eyelids, little muscle tone, and short stature among other characteristics.

Its name comes from the physician John Langdon Down, who first described the syndrome in 1866. In 1959, the French geneticist Jérôme Lejeune discovered that Down syndrome was caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21, which generated 47 chromosomes in all.

Since then, research has been carried out with the aim of improving the quality of life of people with Down syndrome. Among them are those that focus on the effects of music therapy.

Different studies found that children with Down syndrome have a great sensitivity to music, so many experts began to study how this type of therapy can influence their life.

What is music therapy

Music therapy is the use of music and / or its elements, that is, harmony, melody, rhythm and sound, by a qualified music therapist, as reported by the World Federation of Music Therapy.

This treatment can be carried out with a patient or a group, and seek to promote or facilitate different aspects, such as learning, expression, movement, organization or relationships.

Based on a diagnosis, treatment and evaluation of the results, it is sought to satisfy cognitive, emotional, physical and social needs.

It is common for music therapy to be confused with music education. On this, specialists highlight the following differences:

  • Music therapy uses music as a tool to bring about change, while in music education music is an end in itself.
  • Music therapy is an open, evolutionary, interactive and experimental process, while music education tends to be instructive and closed.
  • Music therapy has dynamic content, while music education has defined content.
  • Music therapy is exercised by a therapist, while music education is exercised by a teacher.

How Music Therapy Helps Children With Down Syndrome

Due to the greater sensitivity that children with Down syndrome tend to show for music, it is easier to intervene in the development of different capacities through music therapy, according to Carla Muñoz Navarro in her work “Music therapy with children with Down syndrome“.

Taking into account the characteristics and symptoms shown by children with Down syndrome, the author makes some general premises about how music therapy can influence:

  • The musical rhythm can promote automatic mobility and respiratory and heart functions.
  • The melody can help modify emotions.
  • Musical improvisation can change the mood and promote communication.
  • Individual and / or collective dances can facilitate mastery of the body in space and communication.
  • Instrument manipulation can stimulate manual coordination.
  • Singing can improve respiratory function.

According to Muñoz Navarro, different techniques can be used to interact with patients:

  • Musical auditions.
  • Dramatized musical stories.
  • Musically stimulated drawing.
  • Guided musical performance.
  • Motor stimulation through musical stimuli.
  • Instrumental experimentation.
  • Musical improvisation on auditions.
  • Guided movement through music.
  • Guided relaxation with music.
  • Guided or free improvisation techniques, instrumental and / or vocal.
  • Vocal, composition, rhythmic and musical pulsation techniques.
  • Verbalization and expression through a musical instrument.

Many of these premises are still considered hypotheses, and researchers must continue to investigate them to understand the links between music therapy and its potential benefits in children with Down syndrome.

However, some studies found promising results, such as:

  • Vocal, auditory and motor skills development, as well as greater verbal and corporal expression of feelings.
  • Great stimulation of language and memory.
  • Higher levels of confidence and self-esteem.
  • Greater disposition to social relationships and to acquire social skills.

To remind:

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that arises when cell division produces an additional total or partial copy of chromosome 21.

People with this condition tend to show developmental delays, physical changes, low self-esteem, difficulties in communicating, a low level of initiative and problems to function in social spaces.

Among the different practices that are studied to improve the quality of life of children with Down syndrome, is music therapy.

This is a treatment that combines music and its elements with the aim of restoring, maintaining or improving physical and mental health.

Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, World Federation of Music Therapy, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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