Music & Life

How can music improve the quality of life for children with special needs? Can music help the developmentally delayed child? What are the newest technology innovations in music therapy?

Music can improve the quality of life for children with physical, emotional, and psychological needs in a variety of ways. From increased language development in autistic children to improved self-esteem in at-risk youths, music and music therapy have the potential to make a lasting positive impact in the life of a child.

Music can help in the special needs classroom

Studies suggest that music therapy can improve the speech of developmentally delayed children[1] and in children with autism[2]. By focusing on communication through music, researchers have found that many autistic children show at least a short term increase in social interaction and attention following a directed music therapy session[2]. For example, Melodic Intonation Therapy increases communication skills by using singing to teach language[3]. The close link between language and music are explored further in Music & Life: The Secret Language Connection

Music benefits students emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. A student with hyperactivity finds that she can focus when playing the piano, or an at-risk kindergartner expresses his anger through drums. A depressed teenager finds a positive way to express sadness through song. Research indicates the music is especially helpful for children that are unable to communicate through language and for children suffering from behavioral disorders[2].

Technological innovation gives all children the opportunity to enjoy and learn music. Newly developed music technology software helps hearing impaired older students enjoy and learn music through an interactive interface[4]. The Virtual Musical Instrument interface[3] helps children of limited mobility enjoy creating original music by using motion sensors. These motion sensors detect any type of movement and render a sound.

The VMI recently won the 2010 Da Vinci Award in the recreation and leisure category

The VMI recently won the 2010 Da Vinci Award in the recreation and leisure category

Technological tools developed specifically for music therapy and rehabilitation like SMARTerkids Training Software[3] and MusIQ Kids focus on increasing language, reading, and memory skills through music.

Being sensitive to each child’s needs and abilities will help make music an enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some reminders and new ideas for introducing more music into your child’s life. Remember that flexibility, fun, and patience are key when exploring new musical ventures.

1. Sing songs to specific tasks

Add songs to simple tasks like cleaning up or bath time. This helps familiarize the songs to the child while signaling a new and exciting part of the day.
Train young ears with songs from BusSongs.comFind songs to sing with your children at Sing Up and have hundreds of children’s songs for everything from school to sports. Be sure to sing along yourself!

2. Mini music games and apps

Twinkle Twinkle App for iPhone

  • “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”
    Enjoy learning how to play and sing this simple song with this storybook piano for your iPhone.
  • MiniPiano
    This fun iPhone app has a cute interactive piano that is simple to use – and a bit addictive!

3. Fun Online Music Games

The internet has thousands of kid friendly music games for every developmental level. Check out these great sites:

Experience a variety of musical interactions with your child at Boobah Zone

Experience a variety of musical interactions with your child at Boobah Zone

Free Relaxation MP3s

4. Music Relaxation

Soothing classical music or meditative music makes nap times easier and can even bring calm to an agitated child. Check out the article Music & Life: Lullabies or our specially-composed Relaxation Tracks to find some relaxing music for your home or classroom.

5. Learn more

Here are some suggested resources for discovering more about how music can have a positive impact on children with various special needs:

Share your ideas, thoughts and experiences with us in the Comments below. We’d love to hear how music has helped you and your child!

Show article sources


  1. Grob, W. Ulrike Linden, and Thomas Ostermann. (2010, July 21). Effects of music therapy in the treatment of children with delayed speech development – results of a pilot study. BioMedical Central. Retrieved from
  2. Wigram, T., & Gold, C. (2006). Music therapy in the assessment and treatment of autistic spectrum disorder: clinical application and research evidence. Child: Care, Health & Development, 32(5), 535-542. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2006.00615.x.
  3. Moreno, S. (2009). Can Music Influence Language and Cognition?. Contemporary Music Review, 28(3), 329. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
  4. Yang, H., Lay, Y., Liou, Y., Tsao, W., & Lin, C. (2007). Development and evaluation of computer-aided music-learning system for the hearing impaired. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(6), 466-476. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2007.00229.x.

Further reading:

  • Gold, C., Voracek, M., & Wigram, T. (2004). Effects of music therapy for children and adolescents with psychopathology: a meta-analysis. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 45(6), 1054-1063. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00298.x.
  • Gross, W., Linden, U., & Ostermann, T. (2010). Effects of music therapy in the treatment of children with delayed speech development – results of a pilot study. BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 1039. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.
  • McCord, K., & Watts, E. (2006). Collaboration and Access for Our Children: Music Educators and Special Educators Together. (cover story). Music Educators Journal, 92(4), 26. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
  • Netherwood, C. (2007). Music to your ears. Australian Parents, 64.
  • Schellenberg, E. (2005). Music and Cognitive Abilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 14(6), 317-320. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00389.x.
  • Tanner, D. (1980). MUSIC AND THE SPECIAL LEARNER. Education, 101(1), 46.