The 3 Ingreadients In Gaining Speech: Movement, Motivate, Music

This week a private, non-verbal client walked out of my Music Therapy room and told his mother, “Ready”.

The TSS worker of another non-verbal autistic client told me the most words her client speaks come out (pop out words) during his Occupational Therapy sessions.

When do you feel most alert? When are you most motivated to get things done? Other than food, what are most social events structured with?

What do all these scenarios share in common? Three simple things, movement, motivate with emotion and structure with music. Do you not feel most alert after a good exercise routine? What gives most people energy to get things done, extreme emotion such as happiness or anger. What do most good parties supply? Music.

The boy that walked out of my room came to Music Therapy very happy and anticipating good things. (The evidence of this was the observable smile on his face versus his somewhat anxious look). He climbed onto my small exercise trampoline, and as I put musical structure and words to his movement, he was motivated to do more. His already happy mood gained momentum and energy. The repeated structure of the music, that matched his energy and movements, joined all these facets together to help lay a foundation for speech.

The little boy that goes to Occupational Therapy loves his therapist and spends time swinging and moving and is motivated by her insightful exuberance as she interacts with him.  (In Music Therapy we work on the structure part to give him more consistent control over the pop out words).

As I see it, the three key ingredients to pre-verbal situations, or speech, is movement, emotional motivation, and musical structure. I have never yet witnessed a child sitting calmly that has suddenly produced sound or pop out words. If a child is not ambulatory and I see the feet start to kick my piano, or the hands start to excitedly wave, I know something wonderful is brewing. All three things are at work. The child is being stimulated through their emotions and/or motivated by the music. Children have a faster heart rate than adults for a reason- they need to move! The calmer, more subdued children need that even more. Children sitting is more helpful to the adults (those of us with slower heart rates). Some children do need more focus than others. In these situations, half the work has been done already. Their need to move is granted and provided structure through the music. This matching, structuring, and mirroring their already physically stimulated bodies elicits not only their attentiveness and alertness, but also heightens the emotions. What is inside will come out at some time. It needs structure in order to obtain control, and we need structure. We need a beginning, an ending, and something predictable  in-between.

The little boy who had pop out words in Occupational Therapy comes to Music Therapy humming and vocally following the contour of my music and singing. He comes to Music and wants to move although he is a very clumsy child. How many senses or areas of the brain is this repetitive structure, motion feeding, nurturing, and healing? When a typical child goes to practice instrumental lessons or to hit a baseball, the coaches, teachers, and parents are proud. We see the persistence at what we have instructed them to do. Why is it that we insist on teaching children, who are developing neurologically different, the same as their nuero-typical peers? Why not take their cues and provide the structure and limits for them instead?

This week that same little boy (from Occupational Therapy) came to Music Therapy. As he ran back and forth, as he has for weeks, I sang “Go, go, go and stop” to his tune. Smiling, he watched me and hummed the same tune. Soon he picked up a drumstick, played a bit, and then put the drumstick in his mouth. I traded the drumstick for his recorder. I took turns, back and forth with him playing on mine. As he now had seated himself, and was getting tired of the recorder, I got out a basket of plastic fruit. Each time he pulled one out, I sang the name of the fruit to a simple repetitive tune. I would sing the fruit name once, twice, then tap the speech rhythm on a drum. I would request that he do the same. Before the end of the session he had said “Banana” appropriately, three times.

To end this blog, I want to leave an illustration of movement, motivation and music. This is the boy that said “ready”. It is a sample of the beginning of that session that day. Take note of his expression and the sounds this usually quiet boy makes.

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  1. Harold Rongey, Ph.D. May 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    This is wonderful. I suggest it could be even more so if one considers a fourth factor and that is a diet specifically designed to ensure adequacy for brain development. Studies have shown several nutrients lacking in autistic children that are critical for good transmission of nerve signals. My belief is that an adequate diet makes speech possible while therapy teaches them how to talk. To my knowledge neither therapy or medications provide for any of these missing nutrients. When the diet has been made adequate, non-verbal children have consistently started developing a vocabulary and forming short sentences within two to six months.

  2. Doreen Hunt MA, OTR May 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I am an OT that has been working with children with autism and sensory processing disorders, etc. for 25+ years. I am in total agreement with using Music and Movement (which is very motivating!) to change the brain, the body and speech/language skills. I use iLs (Integrated Listening Systems) programs in all of my therapy sessions with amazing results. Yes, we see language skills (expressive, articulation) improve greatly (and often very quickly) simultaneously during the music/movement intervention. The ear-brain has to be able to process the different sounds in adequate speed for the voice to be able to replicate the sounds and sequence them together for good speech/language output. Check out http://www.integratedlistening.com to learn more about this program and get trained to use it! It’s easy.
    AS Harold brought up a very important point- the gut/diet needs to be checked out first to determine if their are food allergies/sensitivies that are influencing the function of the neurotransmitters/brain. The importance of this can not be underestimated.

    • Antoinette May 28, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      Doreen,Thank you for the very helpful comments! It is very motivating to hear other professions who get results
      with similar modalities, especially those with extensive experience!

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