3 Part Series: Validating a Child through Music

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I recently read an article by Southeast Psych entitled “Verbally Validate to Help Kids Manage Their Emotions” (http://blog.southeastpsych.com/?p=5001) which made me think, “Wow, We do that on a regular basis at a very deep level, which goes beyond words in music.” If one were to make a generalized slice through the brain, and generalized it from the outer brain to the inner brain, the outer brain, the neocortex (http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html?source=facebook#.UeqN_eKrVAZ.facebook) is responsible for a more formalized language and analytical and rational thinking. However, the limbic brain is responsible for our feelings, behavior, and our instinctual abilities. This is also where our decisions are made. No lingual thinking happens here.  When we begin using music to validate, we always start where our client is. Although some of our clients might present significant delays, they still have an outer and inner brain.

This week’s example of validating through music begins like this. Little “Mary” is a six-year-old girl with global delays. Her chromosomal diagnosis leaves her unable to ambulate on her own, talk, hear, or provide much sound. She is able to feed herself. After little “Mary” came in, the hello song began. She looked at the therapist and began to clap (emotion that was pretty significant for her 6 months ago). The therapist matched the bass ostinato to her clapping. She demonstrated her excitement of this validation through faster clapping, better posture, smiling, and quick leg and foot movements matching the rhythm of the bass ostinato. She smiled as she watched the therapist sing. Soon she began to bang at the piano to match the exuberant music (just 4 short months ago we were hoping for some sound as her motivated but weak fine motor skill attempts were made to push the piano keys). As she was consumed by emotion and movement of the music, she began to isolate fingers to play with delicacy. The therapist immediately gave her the musical space to do so, to be heard as the therapist adjusted the mood and dynamics of the mood to soft and delicate. As “Mary’s” fingers and arms tired, she resumed her clapping. The therapist sang the tune reflectively about “Mary’s” actions. “Mary” watched the therapist with a glowing smile and then did as the therapist initiated the prior week. “Mary” put her hands to the therapist’s throat to feel the sound. Her intense, thoughtful gaze portrayed acute concentration. She again looked to the therapist’s eyes, smiled, and began to vocalize to her best ability tot he tune, following the melodic step-wise motion of the music.  This went on for some time.

Again, “Mary” resumed her clapping. Now intently listening more than ever, she grabbed the therapist’s hands for the therapist to clap. The therapist continued the simultaneous clapping and singing as she once again saw “Mary’s” intensely concentrated look. Matching sound, vibration, and rhythm seemed to be the theme for the day. The therapist wanted to give more to the eager child, so she pulled out a hand drum and a mallet, and instead of clapping, produced slightly more concentrated vibrations. Immediately, “Mary” put her palms to the drum. The therapist had been trying for months to get “Mary” to grab the drumstick and hit just two times. Today, “Mary” grabbed the stick on her own and began to beat where the therapist left off. The therapist supported “Mary’s” arm so that Mary could achieve the same concentrated vibration.  As she played repeatedly and her arm tired, the therapist got a new idea. She pulled out a cymbal, continued singing, and put “Mary’s” palms on the cymbal. When the music paused, “Mary” would giggle with delight, and fueled by her emotions, began to happily squeal. This time the therapist tried her feet. As the therapist reached for “Mary’s” feet, “Mary” curled them back (a reportedly typical response). However, once “Mary” felt the vibration through her feet, she put her feet back on her own with certainty. Again at the pause, more giggles.

As the halfway point of the session passed, the therapist put “Mary” on the therapy ball, stomach down, face against the ball. The therapist bounced “Mary” to the beat as she continued to sing into the ball as she continued to sing into the ball, her voice amplified by the ball to “Mary”.

The session slowed as the tired little girl, smiling, began to rub her eyes. The music had spoken to her, with her, and was received by her in a way she could comprehend best. “Mary” responded with exuberance, and although tired, left heard and being heard, smiling.

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC

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