Are you a music teacher who uses technology to help reach children with special needs such as those with developmental disabilities ranging from autism, Down’s syndrome and mental retardation to brain injury, cerebral palsy or other issues? Have you developed techniques on your own for adapting the technology that is available to you, so that you could teach music to this group of special needs children?
If you have, do you think that what you’ve developed could be replicated and offered to other music teachers who have a heart for working with special needs children, if only you had funding to expand your program and document the processes in a meaningful way? I’m eager to hear from you and learn about your program if you have anything to share about using technology in conjunction with your music program to help enrich the lives of special needs students.
Spend any time with me personally, and eventually you'll hear me talking about my three children, the music that is part of their lives, and the joy I find as a father in making music with my sons who play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and more.
You'll also learn that my daughter, Kelly, is a musician, on the autism spectrum.
The Princess of Kingwood Court
The Power of Music Education
My princess Kelly is 18 years old now, and a senior in high school, and has a trait that's fairly unusual among kids with her disability, she has zero stage fright. It’s not at all unusual for autistic kids to become deeply enthralled with movies, television and music. It's often a way in which they help themselves develop language and related skills.
My Kelly loves to sing, in front of people, on stage in front of a large audience each year at her high school talent show. She has a gift for memorizing the smallest details of a song, and its lyrics. She sings her heart out whether or not her pitch matches her enthusiasm 100% of the time. She sings loud, doesn't care who is listening, she sings all day long. She’s belting out "White Rabbit" from her room down the hall as I write this, and busily rehearsing "Strawberry Fields Forever" through the day for her upcoming talent show appearance.
Kelly did not speak until she was three years old. It was an early intervention program that specifically used music, which took Kelly from being almost completely non-verbal to saying things today that we really, really wish she wouldn't say. Such as it is, I try to remind myself during the cringe-worthy moments when she says something out loud I don't particularly love, that there was a time fifteen years ago when I would have given anything to hear her speak at all.
I completely credit the music used in the early intervention with Kelly for her ability to speak, communicate and setting her on as normal a path as she can handle. She's very high functioning on the autism spectrum, but no doubt, on the spectrum. Well, even all over the spectrum. It’s a wide spectrum!
I’m not talking about music therapy here, though I’m a big supporter of music therapy. I’ve seen therapeutic music programs work some miracles, and even some non-traditional musical percussion programs like The Rhythmic Arts Project (www.traponline.com), that teach kids their left from their right within days after a decade of not being able to learn it, but that is a discussion for another time.
"Do You Use Music Technology with Special Needs Students?
Are Special Needs Students Part of Your Music Program?"
Something that has pained me during her school career, is the lack of music education services that she experienced in spite of an obvious interest, aptitude and desire. It seems to be often overlooked by teachers and administrators that music played a critical role in her development of language skills at an early age, and that it just may very well continue to do so if it's applied in context in an ongoing manner.
Perhaps she is so far behind the curve academically that it's not seen as the best use of her school day, but I regret how little exposure to music there is in school for Kelly and other special needs students in public schools, at least from my experience as a parent. Inclusion classes are hard enough for a special needs child to learn within, let alone something as complicated, but rewarding to learn as basic music theory concepts.
This is not to say that school music programs are intentionally exclusionary, it's just difficult to get the IEP for a special needs child populated with anything pertaining to music in general, when there is so much more to cover with them fundamentally. Music classes that are specifically for these children are all but non-existent. That's the prevailing attitude, and sadly, I can understand it.
Having said all that, I have witnessed music radically change my daughter's language processing abilities as well as challenge and engage her memory skills, and even fuel a passion for performance, which is a rarity among children on the autism spectrum. Music is a very special thing to Kelly. She considers herself a musician and will tell you, "I’m a singer."
Technology, Music and Kelly
It’s been Kelly’s access to and ability to use the technology of her MacBook with iTunes, the Internet and her iPhone that has allowed her to self-educate on a most amazing array of selections of music. Because she has access to over 15,000 songs from our family iTunes collection, and because music so intrigues her, she's developed an amazing taste for music. Her musical interests span from jazz standards sung by Sarah Vaughn, the music of Broadway such as "The Phantom of the Opera", to more eclectic choices that includes a near encyclopedic knowledge of popular groups form the 1960's and beyond. These range from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Monkees, Jefferson Airplane, and well more than I can list, including pop music actually made after 1980!
It’s a stupendous list and array of genres she's become versed in, purely by trial and error and by reading an interesting song title or artist name. She knows within a few bars if she's interested in a song, will skip to something else if not. She is able to use iTunes to create playlists and learned to move music to and from her iPhone. She uses the Internet to find lyrics to songs she likes, uses YouTube to discover more songs, and other technology tools to help drive her passion for singing.
She learns new words, slang, expressions and more from her non-stop pursuit of listening to music by using technology, and in turn uses that technology to find out the meaning of these things by searching for them on Google. I do wish she had not decided to look up the meaning to “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” though. But I digress.
It troubles me that if Kelly was not able to be exposed to this library of music at home, and if she was unable to access and use technology such as the iPad, iPhone and MacBook to find this music, it would have been unlikely for her to have encountered very much of it in school. That's just how it seems to be.
Special education students are often brought into inclusion settings for limited general music classes, but often I've met special education students who have no idea what the music teacher or band director's name is, or who have been given the chance to let music lift them up in other ways in their school experience. They are typically not picked to be part of school musicals, and because of behavioral supervision needs are not encouraged to try out for public performances, especially if they involve after school rehearsals. They are not sought after students to participate in band or choir programs.
This is understandably individual to the student and their IEP requirements, but I suspect it also has to do with the limited resources and lack of tools for music teachers to work with. Teaching music to those with developmental disabilities might be much more productive if teachers had access to more, and better tools. Of course, I am speaking from my view as a parent of a special needs child having navigated through her school career with all of its ups and downs.
Calling All Music Teachers Using Technology to Help Special Needs Students!
I am quite excited to be leading TI:ME right now, especially as emerging technology like tablet computers such as iPads are becoming so robust with their music app features and abilities. It's being seen by educators across the world that iPads are having a profound impact on special needs children and their ability to learn and even communicate, and increase their ability to function within inclusion settings using touch-screens, apps, and specialized content. This is no different for students lucky enough to be exposed to music teachers with iPads as part of their curriculum.
Modern music-making technology has the groundbreaking opportunity to let pioneering music teachers who are on a mission of inclusion forge paths to elevate the lives of special needs students on their campuses, and bring out in these students new levels of knowledge, self-confidence, and all of the known positive side effects of children being exposed to music in schools.
Enter The Meyerson Foundation
My old friend (and former author) Ron Simpson is the executive director of The Meyerson Foundation. Ron, and his wife Kerrie (née Meyerson) are passionate about funding programs that serve special needs children and involve music and technology.
Ron is also a very talented musician, so projects that involve music and those with developmental disabilities hold special interest for him. When I met Ron, he was not yet in this position, as the foundation had not formed at that point, and I was still finding out all it meant to have a developmentally disabled child fifteen years ago. I will take our meeting as another unexplainable yet serendipitous moment in my life’s journey.
The Meyerson Foundation seeks to enhance the lives of people with disabilities by continuing to contribute in the spirit of its founders, Drs. Lee Meyerson and Nancy Joy Kerr. The David & Minnie Meyerson Foundation's purpose is to identify, promote and support endeavors likely to benefit children with disabilities and their families. The Meyerson Foundation implements, administers and directs the activities of its own projects which may be formed independently, or in partnership with other organizations.
Does Your Music Program using Technology for Special Needs Children Deserve to be Supported and Duplicated?
They have asked me to reach out to our membership to see who among you have worked on your own to develop ways to work with special needs students in the teaching of music, in particular with the aid of technology of any type from keyboards to other MIDI controllers, from iPads to computers. If you’ve used technology to help teach music to children with special needs, we want to know.
The Meyerson Foundation is willing to set aside seed money for TI:ME teacher(s) who have innovatively applied technology to special needs students, to help fine tune their programs, enhance them and ultimately help to replicate them to other school music programs across the country.
Do You Have an App Idea for Special Needs Music Instruction?
As you may imagine, this subject is close to my heart. I am certain there must be some amazing things going on out there among the TI:ME community involving music, technology and special needs children in schools. Please get in touch with me through the website here to tell me more about your program, classes and anything else you may be doing to teach music to special needs children. Perhaps in doing so, your ideas may be funded, tested and ultimately packaged for replication and offered freely to other teachers who want to reach special needs students with music education using technology. The truth is, The Meyerson Foundation and myself can’t tell you exactly what we’re looking for at the moment, or what the end game will be when we identify the right program to fund. We’re treading into uncharted territory.
We’re looking for innovative music teachers using technology, either off the shelf, or even cobbled-together resources. We’re looking for iPad app ideas that can be developed and then front-loaded into iPads to give to teachers who will use them to teach music to developmentally disabled children on any level. We’re anxious to support programs that integrate music, technology and even mentoring by general education students of special needs students that will enrich both the special and general education students lives and exposure to music. It's hard to put our finger right on it, but the message is, we’re looking, and we hope you’ve got some great ideas and examples to share with us. I look forward to hearing from you.
Executive Director - TI:ME