Voices Together – Integrating Music and Multisensory Experiences

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Voices Together – Integrating Music and Multisensory Experiences

Voices Together is a specialized music therapy model that uses music and multisensory experiences to teach communication and social/emotional skills for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this organization serves thousands of individuals across twelve counties and is widely regarded as one of the premier providers of therapeutic services.

The therapist’s role in the intervention is to engage participants by using music to improve communication, develop interpersonal and self-advocacy skills, and foster healthy relationships within the group. The music therapy model VOICSS (Vocal Interactive Communication and Social Strategies) was developed based on research from multiple practitioners and incorporates various methods that are specifically tailored for children and teens with autism spectrum disorder.

Music therapy sessions rely on verbal interaction as a form of prompt to promote communication, both within songs and spontaneously between participants. This may include leaving requests for verbal responses on unresolved musical notes, creating internal structures for turn-taking that vary in intensity depending on each participant’s ability level, and directly asking each participant questions that alternate between singing and speaking.

Therapists use rhythmic play to promote language production and social engagement in children with autism or other developmental disorders. By encouraging vocal range and quality of speech, therapists have found that rhythmic exploration increases vocal range for these kids.

Utilizing a “musical stages of speech” approach to expanding vocal sound range and expression with infants and young children who are deaf or have other disabilities that restrict vocal expression is an effective method for improving motor and vowel utterance development. This technique has been integrated into several therapeutic models such as Orff and Kodaly’s curriculums.

Music therapy can also be utilized with mute infants and toddlers who may have lost their voice due to trauma, as well as those who are delayed in vocal production. A music therapist may use musical rhythmic play and vocalization to stimulate emotions and motor responses through babbling, which has been found to be more active and diverse when set within a musical context.

Research into classroom-based music therapy programs for students with autism spectrum disorders is lacking, however. While evidence does exist that such an approach can be successful, few controlled studies have evaluated its outcomes in a classroom setting – making it difficult to compare group effects to individual differences.

Preliminary findings indicate that an individualized music therapy program in a classroom setting for 45 minutes each week for 15 weeks can improve verbal responsiveness among children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Researchers compared short-term and long-term groups, monitoring participants’ level of verbal response to prompts during three songs featured each week.

At the conclusion of the study, both groups demonstrated increased verbal responsiveness. However, only the long-term group showed statistically significant within-group increases in verbal responsiveness. It is recommended that further research be conducted to explore how this specialized music therapy model in a classroom setting affects student communication and social skills.

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