Music and Down Syndrome
Article by Toni Broshears
Children who are mentally challenged often do not see the world in the same way that the majority does. Communication can be difficult, if not downright frustrating, for parties who are seeking a way to connect but do not know how. Music is the great equalizer, in many areas as well as this. It can be an excellent way to reach out to those children who suffer from mental challenges.
Babies with Down syndrome, for example, are eager to communicate. Before they can speak, they work with nonverbal forms of communication such as sounds as gestures to reach out to loved ones. Just like children without mental challenges, Babies with Down syndrome are able to comprehend and learn how to speak. However, they often struggle in the formation of words due to poor muscle control. It typically takes a child with Down syndrome about twelve months longer than a child who does not suffer from any challenges to learn to form words.
Music can be used to encourage this marriage between communication and better motor skills. Children with Down syndrome often respond to the rhythm and form of music and words. Encouraging a child with Down syndrome to listen to music with words might encourage him to find the rhythm that will help him feel more comfortable with forming words a bit faster. However, it is important to remember that children with Down syndrome often struggle with hearing loss as well. In these cases, the act of providing music with a rhythm that can be felt as well as heard can stimulate the child.
In terms of cognitive development, music can make a big difference. For children with Down syndrome, learning simple things such as a playing with toys typically takes longer than it would for children without a learning disability. Evidence has shown that memory games can help the child with Down syndrome improve both his short term and visual memory.
To create a memory game using music, teach the child with Down’s syndrome a simple and memorable song. Using a tiny piano, showing the child how to go up and down the keys and form different songs such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. This may inspire him to want to imitate the sounds he is hearing. The challenge of playing with an instrument will teach the child how to explore and discover new things.
One of the other areas where children with Down syndrome fall behind is through the use of their motor skills. It can be a real challenge for one of these children to do something as simple as grasping a spoon to eat. Using music to help develop these motor skills can be a helpful and less frustrating experience, since music is something that would most likely be considered play.
Using an instrument such as a collection of jingle bells or a tambourine, try showing the child how to hold and shake the instrument to make noise. The desire to recreate the sound of the instrument will help to encourage the child to try harder to grasp the object. Once this is mastered, using an instrument like drums – which requires a two handed coordination and the grasp of two tiny sticks – can be a fun challenge for the child with Down syndrome.
Ultimately, music is an excellent way to communicate and inspire those children who suffer from mental challenges. As music is fun and bright, it can seem like less work and more play for the child to experience music as a learning device. This type of motivation can work wonders in inspiring a mentally challenged child to learn.