An Overview of Music Therapy for Children With Cerebral Palsy

It is widely accepted that music and rhythm have healing powers because they speak more to our emotions than to our intellect. Distraught children often calm when sung to and the extremely find solace when listening to classical music. Music therapy and training has had consistent and profound effects on children suffering from cerebral palsy, leading to improvements in cognitive performance, spatial reasoning, verbal skills and an overall sense of well-being.

Music can actually alter the landscape of the brain, something that has been proven in recent years due to advanced imaging technology such as MRI’s. Neurologic Music Therapy is now a recognized and emerging field of science and is becoming commonplace as treatment for patients who suffer brain injuries.

Music can actually grow and heal neural pathways in the brain, linking areas dedicated to speech, touch, movement, sound and emotion, all areas of the brain required for making music. Neuroplasticity, also known as cortical re-mapping, refers to the ability of the human brain’s neural pathways and synapses to change as a result of one’s behavior, environment and neural processes. This allow the brain to reorganize itself and bypass areas of injury to promote the development of skills in other areas.

Studies have shown that fetuses are quite capable of hearing sound while in the womb and that they demonstrate a preference for the same music when they are approximately 1 year old. Music is a source of delight for children, and a pleasure that continues beyond childhood, into the teen years and beyond.

Since it has been demonstrated that music has an effect on so many parts of the brain, that it is enjoyed throughout life and that it helps facilitate brain plasticity, there is no wonder it has become a therapeutic science of its own and is used to enhance many of the traditional therapies. Therapists and researchers have documented cases where music therapy has provided profound benefits to patients with cerebral palsy. Both music and CP affect multiple areas of the brain and, even though CP is most commonly defined as an impairment of motor skills, it is also known to create disturbances in perception, behavior, communication, cognition, sensation and lead to seizure disorders. Music aids in the bridging of missed cross-brain connections.

Researchers and therapists are increasingly listing music therapy as integral part of cerebral palsy intervention. Because music can affect the brain’s ability to link movement, sound, patterns and emotion, it has effectively promoted improvements in many areas for patients with cerebral palsy, including: communication, gait control, head and torso control, hand movement, introduction of rhythms to children who are deaf, hand-eye coordination, relaxation, muscle response and group play.

Music therapy can begin in the home at virtually any age. Professional music therapists (ones who are board certified as trained in music, assessment, documentation and counseling) can be provided at no cost through state-funded programs and as a part of many IEP’s (Individualized Education Programs) in the public school systems. Music therapy is frequently a cross-therapy tool and used in conjunction with other clinical skills. Many music therapy programs are now covered by insurance plans.