Kids find their rhythm with music therapy

If you ever pass Andrea Lamont on the highway with her kids on a road trip, you’ll know it. How? They’re the family belting out ABBA songs with reckless abandon.

“My kids and I scream it in the car,” said the Holland Bloorview music therapist, smiling. “It’s the number one road trip music for us.”

And that sheer joy and love of music she and her kids experience on the open road is what she tries to recreate with kids with disabilities every day.

Andrea has been at Holland Bloorview for 16 years, helping kids of all ages and disabilities discover that there really is something magical about music.

She believes every client possesses an “inner music child,” and she and her team try to tap into it as a way of enhancing their development, health and well-being.

“It’s within all of us,” said Andrea, noting that she has seen music do amazing things, and help everyone “from kids in a coma to kids getting ready for discharge.”

Music in harmony with rehabilitation

Behind music’s magic is some serious science.

“Music therapy taps into non-musical domains: socialization, mobile function, sensory skills and communications skills,” said Andrea, adding, “music is a full brain stimulator.”

So how does music therapy work?

“First, we introduce different types of music and instruments to see how a client behaves in a musical environment – how they react, how they move, what they say, what they gesture. We try to learn what music inspires them, motivates them or soothes them.”

Then, Andrea works with other Holland Bloorview staff and families to determine a goal – it could be social, physical, communication, sensory or psychosocial (emotional well-being).

In addition to listening to music, clients play hand percussion instruments like drums, shakers, bongos, bells as well as piano and guitars.

And for kids unable to use traditional instruments, Holland Bloorview is continually adding new adaptive technology devices, like the Virtual Music Instrument (VMI).

(The VMI lets kids play music without having to hold an instrument. When a child moves their arm through a virtual dot while facing a large television screen, the VMI translates that physical movement into a musical note.)

Music therapy’s amazing range

Once a certain type of music or instrument has been identified, Andrea strikes up the band, so to speak.

If the goal is improved socialization, Andrea might have a child take part in a group music activity, with clients taking turns joining in a song’s chorus.

“Sharing and taking turns happens very naturally in song structure,” noted Andrea.

If the goal is to improve attention span, she might play different instruments and alter the music frequently, but have a client follow the changing music with a drum for longer and longer periods of time.

To improve motor skills, Andrea might join a client’s physiotherapy session and help make an exercise more engaging by adding music.

“Think things like rhythmic training – getting their body in the groove of the music and feeling good about moving to a certain beat,” she said.

New app taps into inner DJ

Speaking of beats, some clients will soon be making their own though a new app called PrismBeats.

It’s an iPad music app being developed at Holland Bloorview with PRISM lab that helps kids become DJs.

With an array of DJ materials like percussion beats or other musical sounds, the app is activated by a switch (such as a button, for kids with more severe disabilities) or like a regular app using one's fingers, allowing a child to find their “inner DJ.”

Andrea loves how this app gives even more kids with disabilities the chance to be musical.

This app will take centre stage next month (Nov. 6) at the 2nd Annual Holland Bloorview Rocks Fundraiser where two bands of Holland Bloorview clients and hospital staff will raise awareness as well as funds for the hospital’s music programs.

For Andrea, there are few sounds sweeter than and hearing a client express themselves through music, whether it be in one of her sessions or in a performance.

“When there is an absence of words, or vocabulary, the non-verbal components of music give kids that opportunity to truly express what is within,” she said.