Impact: Music and the Differently Abled


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Over the past month we have touched on music’s role in enhancing the learning experience, its power to transform lives, and how it benefits social and cognitive development. Today, Dr. Boyle touches on music’s impact on children who are differently abled. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]I’m not above getting personal. I have mild dyslexia, which made reading difficult as I grew up. Actually, it still does. But the most difficult challenge to my learning was ADD. Despite dealing with it in one way or another while growing up, I wasn’t officially diagnosed until working on my doctorate. The coping mechanisms I had developed when I was young just weren’t cutting it with the higher level of work. Admitting to myself that there was a challenge was…well…a challenge! Once I asked for help, the support system at Rutgers University was tremendous. I can tell you this: music – just listening to music while studying – helped me tremendously. You’d think I would have realized that as it’s my field! But music’s impact on learning challenges goes beyond the benefits gleaned by simply listening.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Learning Challenges
Dr. Oliver Sacks

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Dr. Oliver Sacks, the late author and neurologist, once said, “Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music.” In his book, Musicophillia, he relates the power of music in reducing tics in patients with Tourette Syndrome and reaching those with autism. Last year, we featured this video – the powerful story of music’s impact on students in need of specialized instruction in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][vc_column_text]My wife, Jane (an elementary music specialist), sees the impact regularly. Jane had a nonverbal student on the Autism Spectrum in her class. After repeated exposure to the class’s “Hello” song (those ever popular transition rituals), she began to take part, singing along with the tune. In the moment, Jane locked eyes with the student’s learning support aid and mouthed the question, “Is she singing along?!”

Stunned, the aide mouthed back, “Yes!”

It was an emotional moment. I recall Jane coming home that day and sharing the story with me. I wept. So did Jane. Seeing that child make a connection, coming out of her shell, was a career highlight she carries with her still.

This child was seven. Research indicates that early contact with regular music making can tremendously impact the learning and social processes of children with developmental challenges.

Impact. I keep using that word. I’ve resisted reaching for my thesaurus – the word is simply too perfect. Music is a force, and that force is unstoppable in its power to change, improve, connect, and enhance the lives of all it touches. That, friends, is a true impact.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Music, Autism, and One Little Girl’s Story

During certain times of the year, our lives seem to operate on warp speed. December often flies by the fastest. So, today, we ask that you press pause on your life for a moment and catch a glimpse of one little girl’s story, the loving adults invested in her life, and their shared experience with and through music. This little girl’s story, like music, will challenge you to listen with your heart as well as your ears. As her mom explains: “Life is busy. She has taught us to slow down. I love to look at the world through her eyes….to hear your child sing when they have been nonverbal for so long is amazing.”

So, take a moment and see the world through her eyes.

Music & Autism Video


Learn more about music as a curriculum solution in your school and working with children with special needs.

Contributed by Lisa Camino Rowell, a freelance writer in the Atlanta area.

Moments Worth Waiting For: Music & the Child with Special Needs

First smile. First time sitting up. First steps. First time saying “mama” or “dada.” Oh yes. Every parent can create a list of enduring moments worth waiting for and savoring.

In the Kindermusik community, we concoct our own lists, too, and our collective heart for children and families overflows with the memories of how music reaches children of all abilities.

Take Filomena. Music helped to create so many moments worth waiting for:

Kindermusik Children with Special Needs Video

Then there are Meghan and John, whose stories remain rooted in the heart of Kindermusik Maestro educator, Christa Beck, who has a passion for incorporating children with special needs into Kindermusik classes:

Meghan’s Moment Worth Waiting For: Early in my Kindermusik career, Meghan a little girl with Down syndrome was working so hard to walk. She was approaching age 2.  During class one evening, Meghan walked across the room for the first time. The entire class began to applaud and cheer. Her Mom was in tears and still talks about that moment to this day.

John’s Moment Worth Waiting For: During a preschool age class, I had a mostly non-verbal preschool boy with autism.  After two weeks of repeating an activity, the third week again we were passing around a rooster puppet and singing “Kukuriku.” John sang those notes clear and on pitch. It was the most he had sung (or spoken) around other children.


Every child impacts us in profound ways because every child is profoundly beautiful, including a little boy named Lucas with brittle bone disease, whose story Kindermusik educator Betsy Gurske shares:


Kindermusik Children with special needs

5 benefits of music for children with special needs

Yes! These moments serve as reminders about the personal power of music on a child’s everyday life. However, scientists, music therapists, and Kindermusik educators also know how the research backs up the moments.

  1. Playing instruments supports fine motor skill development
  2. Moving to a steady beat encourages gross motor skills development.
  3. Playing music in a group increases empathy and teaches other key social-emotional skills, such as turn-taking, listening, and responding.
  4. Music can relieve stress, decrease blood pressure, and even shows to help with the reduction of pain.
  5. Music gives verbal and non-verbal children a way to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Do you have a child with special needs? Come visit a Kindermusik class together and experience your own musical moments worth the wait!

After school curriculum for children with special needs

Special NeedsWith a large number of dual-income families, the school day often extends to after school programs. However, for children with special needs, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, the options for a quality after school program curriculum are limited. As published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, Michelle Haney, PhD, highlighted the growing need for after school curriculum inclusive of children with special needs.
Haney surveyed parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder between the ages of four and 11 in Georgia. She uncovered not only an educational need for quality after school special education curriculum but also a high interest level of parents for enrolling their child with autism in an inclusive after school program curriculum.

Special education after school curriculum needs assessment

  • In the survey, 59 percent of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder participate or have participated in an after-school program at a public school or preschool or through a private caregiver or community organization.
  • Only 33 percent of parents indicated that this was a positive experience for their child. Parents noted that limited expertise of after school caregivers in the behavioral and social needs of children with autism, too much stimulation, and crowded settings contributed to the poor experiences.
  • Parents noted that their child needs support services and opportunities to improve speech-language skills (89 percent), motor skills (74 percent), and sensory integration (82 percent).
  • 69 percent of all parents were interested in attending an after school program at their child’s public school, especially if the teachers were trained, activities were structured and developmentally appropriate, and included predictable routines

After school curriculum uses music to teach young children with special needs


In observing the effect of music on so many children with so many unique learning profiles, it is clear that music truly is universal. The research is catching up with what teachers have known for ages: music’s impact on cognition and skills development is indisputable.

Created by Kindermusik International, ABC Music & Me uses music and movement in structured, developmentally appropriate ways to teach children of all abilities early literacy and language, self-regulation, listening, and social skills. ABC Music & Me can be used as an after school curriculum to help children also practice turn taking, fine and gross motor skills, and following directions. Plus, students with special needs, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, who participate in ABC Music & Me as a special education curriculum show gains in literacy and language skills.
A supplemental strategies guide, Meeting Special Needs, organized unit-by-unit and lesson-by-lesson, suggests activity adaptations for children with particular needs or impairments. Plus, ABC Music & Me includes materials for families to use together at home to connect the classroom learning with the home environment and increase parent involvement in early childhood education.

To learn more about using ABC Music & Me as part of an after school program for children, including children with special needs, download our Special Needs Flyer or email us at


Children with autism learn social skills by imitating others

(Source: Gloucester County Times. Photo by Lori M. Nichols)

Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery but to a child with autism it might be so much more. Early childhood special education research indicates that teaching young children with autism to imitate others might help develop other social skills, too.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Brooke Ingersoll, PhD in a press release. “I think we, as a field, are getting a much better idea of what autism looks like in infants and toddlers than we did even five years ago.”

Research highlights importance of early childhood special education

Ingersoll analyzed children with autism between the ages of 27 months and 47 months. As published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Ingersoll found that young children with autism who were taught imitation skills made more attempts to draw the teacher’s attention to an object through gestures and eye contact, both social skills in which children with autism often struggle.

Special education curriculum uses music’s proven methods

ABC Music & Me, our early childhood special education curriculum, uses music to teach children of all abilities, including autism, early literacy and language, social and emotional skills, and to strengthen fine and gross motor skills, and more. Special education teachers who use ABC Music & Me see firsthand how music can help non-verbal children make noises for the first time or help children interact together in the classroom. Plus, activities in class often include opportunities for children to imitate the teacher.

Our special education curriculum includes a supplemental strategies guide, Meeting Special Needs, which suggests activity adaptations for children with particular needs or impairments. Plus, we include IEP objective descriptors for easy cut-and-paste and IEP skills booster index.

For more information about using ABC Music & Me as an early childhood special education curriculum, email us at

Music therapy and early childhood special education

Source: American Music Therapy Association

With more than 30 years experience of using music to reach children of all abilities, we experience every day the profound impact of music, including how music can be used in early childhood special education. Last year NPR’s Talk of the Nation featured a discussion with licensed music therapists who use music to treat stress and speech disorders. In addition to highlighting personal experiences in practicing music therapy, these music therapists discussed the latest research that showed music therapy can:

  • Decrease anxiety levels in cancer patients and people with heart disease
  • Improve quality of life in cancer patients and patients at the end of life
  • Reduce heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure
  • Help people who have lost expressive language communicate through singing

Children with autism and music therapy

One of the callers, a parent with two children with autism shared her family’s experience with music therapy:

My son, my 6-six-year-old son, basically did not speak. He would string maybe two words together. That was his idea of a sentence. I walked into a pet store one day, and he sang from beginning to end the song “Slippery Fish.” It had seven stanzas. And I—my jaw hit the floor—and I went back to his access liaison with the state, and I said he doesn’t speak, yet he sang this song. She goes he needs music therapy….

We have had eight different music therapists now…my child, my nonverbal child, the one that spoke like two words together with his sentence, he speaks, he communicates, he can give us his wants.

I mean, he’s not talkative. He’s not—but the music therapist, she comes twice a week. This has made such a huge difference to our family, to our life, his ability to be educated, to provide self-care.”

To hear the show, Talk of the Nation: “Treating Stress, Speech Disorders with Music,” in its entirety or to read the transcripts, go here.

Early childhood special education curriculum uses music to teach children

Our special education curriculum, ABC Music & Me, uses music to teach children of all abilities early literacy and language, social and emotional skills, and to strengthen fine and gross motor skills, and more. ABC Music & Me is not a therapeutic program, however, many music therapists use or recommend ABC Music & Me or Kindermusik curricula to families whose children experience physical, emotional, cognitive, or social challenges. Students with special needs who use our early childhood special education curriculum show gains in literacy and language skills.

Special needs teachers appreciate the supplemental strategies guide, Meeting Special Needs, organized unit-by-unit and lesson-by-lesson, that suggests activity adaptations for children with particular needs or impairments. Plus, our exclusive customer website includes the tools teachers need for students’ IEPs, including IEP objective descriptors for easy cut-and-paste and IEP skills booster index.

For more information about using ABC Music & Me as an early childhood special education curriculum, email us at