Healing with Music
“Music is the great communicator.”
~ Randy Grossman, V.P. of Harmonizing With Humanity.
One thing that has always worked with calming my oldest daughter Jaimie—or giving her nervous system the little boost it needs—has been music. Music is a fantastic tool because there are so many options out there to choose from—depending on what Jaimie needs and when. We can go from classical to pop to jazz to country and everything in between. A lot of therapists incorporate music into their regular sessions because it can be soothing, bring emotions out that we aren’t dealing with and can even rise us up when we’re low. I’m finding that as Jaimie gets older, music has become an important part of her overall sensory plan. And it took a conversation with an amazing Dad to make me realize the importance of music—not only for children with special needs, but to all of us.
Our journey to music in therapy
One morning earlier this spring, while seeking some enlightenment from one of my online SPD parent support groups, a long-time member—and a very close friend—shared a link to a YouTube video of a song advising everyone who watched it to “have Kleenex handy!”
That song was called, “The Life That’s Chosen Me.” It was written by Grammy-nominated singer, Karen Taylor-Good, with Lisa Aschmann, and performed by Karen for the first time in Orlando December 9th, 2008 for a roomful of parents of exceptional children. You don’t have to be the parent of a special needs child to be touched by the song. But those of us who are such parents will feel it’s meaning deep in our souls.
The song says what all special needs families wish we could say to others: “I know my family isn’t perfect but it’s okay. I’m doing the best I can because this is the life that God gave me.” Then the song goes on describing what others can do to help. And Randy Grossman, V.P. of Harmonizing With Humanity, understands first hand the heart of this song: he has two autistic boys of his own.
“I realized that there are so many caregivers out there who aren’t as lucky as my wife and myself in terms of support and/or assistance and are feeling very alone,” Randy said during our one-and-half hour telephone conversation. “We wanted to reach out through music—the universal language—to help people find some sort of comfort.”
The awesome group of musicians contributing to the Harmonizing With Humanity are what Randy calls, “Indie Positive Artists”: Musicians who uplift spirits with their God-given talents. They are some of the most talented artists today and their music provides listeners with entertainment and a positive message. What could be better than that?
I think what touched me the most, aside from his obvious and contagious love for his boys was the incident from which all of this stemmed from. One morning when dropping his son off at school he drove up at the end of a line-up of cars waiting to get out of the parking area. This wasn’t a typical morning, however, because the parent at the front of the line was overcome by an emotional meltdown and unable to continue . “Parents behind her knew what was happening and felt her pain,” Randy said. “No one moved or even honked. For about seven minutes we all waited patiently—all of us have been in that situation before. Then the Vice Principal came out to talk to her—to offer support—until she was finally able to leave the parking lot. It was then that I realized parents and caregivers need more support.”
Shortly after that, he met up with Karen Taylor-Good who, unbeknownst to Randy, was so inspired by his story she’d written the lyrics to “The Life That’s Chosen Me.” From there, Randy was inspired to create an album filled with hope for these caregivers. As he states on his website: “Our mission is to unite like-minded “positive music artists” and fans who love listening while providing a center point to support important causes.”
By the time we’d reached the end of our conversation, I felt as though I said goodbye to an old friend. Randy and I related not only on the level of parents of exceptional children but also as musicians who understand what the power of music is capable of doing. It can inspire, encourage, uplift, recharge and unite. And powerful music mixed with beautiful lyrics is a recipe for success no matter how you look at it.
As I’d shared with Randy, as soon as I realized Jaimie struggled with something—before her SPD diagnosis—I used music as a way to get through to her. I couldn’t hold her, but I could sing to her. She rejected my comforting “Mommy touch”, but, she allowed me to sit with her while she listened to music or let me crazy-dance with her as she worked through a meltdown. And that’s what Randy’s gorgeous songs reminded me of. Through music, I’m able to reach a part of my daughter’s soul very few get to…and it’s my way of hugging her and her way to do the same.
In the four minutes I listened to that song, my soul healed, my strength to move forward returned and I was reminded why I do what I do for Jaimie, and all four of my children. As I’ve said many times, to myself and to others who want to be near Jaimie, if we want to grow, we need to be willing to look beyond the surface—beyond what only our eyes allow us to see—and be brave enough to look through other lenses. Only then, can we truly understand something or someone else. And that’s exactly what Randy Grossman, and the rest of the people involved with Harmonizing With Humanity, does.
Music truly is the great communicator because it makes us stop, listen and pay attention no matter what language we speak, the culture we’re from, or if we can even communicate verbally at all. Shortly after watching the video with me, Jaimie leaned towards me, put her head in my lap—thatÕs how she hugs most days—and said, “I loved that song, Mama.” Today there isn’t a day that goes by she when isn’t humming it or belting the lyrics out at the top of her lungs—depending on how she feels at the time.
That’s the power of music. And God Bless people like Randy Grossman and his team for understanding that.
SIDEBAR: Fun and Simple Ways to Heal Through Music
You don’t need to enroll your child in music therapy or be a professional musician, like Randy or his crew, to work music into a regular therapeutic routine. You just need to have a love for music and instill that love in your child. A very important note to make is that certain pitches can actually trigger negative reactions. The best thing to do is pay close attention to how your child responds and reacts to certain types of music and adjust what you use accordingly. Here are a few fantastic suggestions I found on a site called, “Raise A Smart Child” (http://www.raise-smart-kid.com/music-therapy-activity.html) on the subject of using music as therapy or a form of learning.
Chynna’s brain bite: If you want to use music as a form of therapy then please seek the guidance of a trained professional who can create the best program for you and your child. The following options are simply ways to incorporate music into your set therapy set-up.
(1) Sing loud and proud. Who cares if you aren’t the next Michael Buble or Whitney Houston? All your baby cares about is the music and the energy you put into it. Get into it and they will too!
(2) Movement is key. Clap, stomp, boogie, shake your behind, wave, or tap. Using actions and movement not only injects some energy into the exercises but can also create a beautiful bond. Children learn best when they’re in motion—besides, energy is contagious. So be sure to have tons of it.
(3) Play instruments or toys with the music. Have a nice variety of musical instruments to work with to correspond with the child’s needs, mood and abilities. Instruments like recorders, drums, maracas, and xylophones are great starts. Don’t forget you can always use things around the house such as a comb covered with was paper, spoons, pots and pans with a wooden spoon, etc. Use your imagination.
(4) Show them how to do it! Be your child’s role model. If you are excited and energetic, your child will be too. Show them how it’s done! Throw caution to the wind and sing, dance, and go crazy. If your child needs help calming instead of exerting energy, show them how to relax and listen.
(5) Offer a wide variety. Choose different styles of music like: Classical, Country, Rock, Vocal, Jazz, Bluegrass, Opera and Instrumental. My Jaimie’s favorites are classical (for calming), Jazz or Beatles (for dancing the sillies away) and Harmonizing With Humanity (for working through feelings).
(6) Praise participation at any level. It doesn’t matter whether they can make it through the entire song. All that matter is that they try and that they get something from it. It’s supposed to be spontaneous movement and provide the opportunity to express their feelings and energies. Allow this freedom.
(7) Watch your child with your sensory glasses on. Be aware of how much time your child is exposed to music and sounds, including radio and television. Getting too much sensorial stimulation decreases the benefits of music, especially for children with auditory defensiveness.
(8) Be in sync with the music. Be sure to have all distractions off: telephone, television, younger siblings, toys, etc. Your child will not absorb the benefits of the music if he or she is distracted.
The most important part is to have FUN. Even if your child doesn’t seem to embrace it at first, continue working the music into regular activities and/or therapy sessions. Music truly is the great communicator—just give it a chance and you’ll see!