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Music Therapy for Children With Special needs

Submitted By: Marya Stark

Have you ever had the experience of looking at your child and thinking to yourself ‘wow, my child is quite musical?' It is easy for many parents to see how innately musical children are, sometimes without any formal learning or musical examples from the family. It seems as though music runs through their veins from the day they are born, breathing through them as naturally as the air. The field of Music Therapy has taken note of this for many years, and has developed a modality of therapy that builds upon this natural affinity children have for musical play to help them in reaching their highest potential in learning, self-awareness, and creative self-expression.

Music Therapy is based in the philosophy that indeed all humans are born with an inherent capacity and aptitude for music. Through the study of how music affects the physical, mental, and emotional processes, professionals agree that music is an important aspect of a child's development. It has been shown to stimulate, motivate, and inspire children in ways that no other medium can. Musical play allows for access into the child's heart, addressing them as a whole being and giving them the freedom to be who they truly are. It offers a key to unlocking aspects of the self while simultaneously supporting their learning on all other levels.

One of the things that differentiates music from other therapeutic modalities is the neurological and physiological phenomenon that occurs when engaged in a musical experience. A brain has many different centers of activity. One area of the brain may function in interpreting language; another may process emotions. A third functions in storing memory, while yet another is responsible for motor functioning (ect.) When a child is engaging in a musical experience however, whether it is dancing or playing instruments, it is the only experience where the entire brain is active. This is one of the things Music Therapists mean when we say music works with the whole child, because it literally does!
When taking a child's growing brain into consideration, musical experiences are incredibly valuable for supporting specific areas of development. For example, if a child is diagnosed with Autism and has certain delays in formulating speech, music therapy supports their speech development by directly addressing it through the words of a song, supporting it with the rhythm and melody, and indirectly addressing it by stimulating the neurological connections to more developed aspects of their brain. Music uses the strong points of a child to help support the growing ones. Because of this aspect, music gives the child the opportunity to already be successful, and have a place for unlimited expanding potential.


Some of the Special Needs populations served by Music Therapy:
Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, Apraxia, Down Syndrome, TBI, ADHD, Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, William's Syndrome, Physical and Emotional Trauma, Other Varying Developmental Delays.

Some of the Goals Addressed by Music Therapy:

Language Development, Communication Skills, Cognitive Skills, Social Skills, Engagement, Self-esteem and Self-expression, Behavior Management, Relaxation, Attention Span, Emotional and Spiritual Development, Coping Skills, Sensory Integration, Body and Spatial Awareness, Motor Skills, Imagination and Creativity

For more information on Music Therapy
, Contact Marya Stark MT-BC

Adoptive Parenting

Submitted By: Anna Dasbach, M.A., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist



Parenting is not always easy and many parents seek out help or parenting books and classes to become better parents. For those of us who have adopted, especially internationally, many of the books and resources don't apply.


Our families were formed under different circumstances. In order for us to be families, our children had to suffer a tremendous loss: the loss of their birth mother, birth families, and for those adopted internationally, their birth- culture. Many adoptive parents come to adoption after failed attempts to conceive and thus had to come to terms with the loss of having a biological child. Even if adoption was the parents' first choice, the child did not have a choice and will need to be guided through the process of grieving the losses she/he encountered. 


As adoptive parents we are often told by well meaning friends who have raised biological children, that they can relate or have had similar problems or as one friend recently posed it to me: "So what if there was a different start in life, she's got wonderful parents now and a good life."


And yes, while this statement is very true, it does not negate the impact of my daughter's beginning of life and the specific things I learned to provide her with to support her ability to mitigate the effects of early trauma.


Owing to newly focused research on brain development and the effects of trauma on the developing brain, we can now talk more clearly about the need to take a different approach when raising children who were adopted and thus had to face early separation from their birth mothers. This early loss, even if the child had been adopted at birth, can be experienced as trauma to the newborn. The sudden loss of the familiar heartbeat, voice and smell can be jolting to the feeling of security in the infant.


For infants, as in my daughter's case, who were left on a street corner even for a short time, the early separation is experienced as life threatening. Some adopted children experienced multiple care- takers or faced neglect during the early months or years of their lives that created more trauma and different ways of learning to view their world and their lives.


Due to these traumatic experiences our children might have a harder time dealing with changes and adjusting to new situations. As children grow and begin to understand more of the complexities of being adopted we, as parents, need to provide them with resources and support. Especially children in trans-racial adoptive families, who may look very different from their parents, need help navigating their felt sense of who they are in the world and a culture in which they are a minority while the parents are part of the majority.


How do we support our children in answering questions such as: "Is this your real mom? Why do you look different? Do you speak English?" And as parents how do we respond and model to our children when strangers approach us with questions about our children: "Where did you adopt her from? How much did it cost?"


Can we just be a family and embrace the fact that we created it, not by biology and genetics, but by love and a desire to be together?


For parents who have adopted, there is some extra work and learning that comes along with parenting. We have to help our children grieve the losses of their birth families, find ways to engage with their birth families, either directly, in the case of open adoption, or indirectly by talking to our children about them and why their parents might have been unable to care for them.


In addition, we have to form a bond and create attachment without the biological support of the first nine month in utero, or the months or years that we missed with our children who were either being cared for by birth parents who at some point were no longer able to care for them, or multiple care-providers in foster homes or institutions.


Many children who require special education were adopted, not that all adopted children will be in special education classes, however due to early trauma some children face difficulties in learning and are sometimes diagnosed with ADHD, ADD or Sensory Integration Disorder. All of these difficulties are related to the early brain development that dealt with trauma. Those children who experienced neglect, malnutrition or disruptive attachment due to removal from homes or institutions, sometimes face reactive attachment disorder or RAD. All of these symptoms can be eased for the child if addressed early on and if parents seek out appropriate help.


Fortunately, there are many resources available to adoptive families today. I have found wonderful websites and web groups of parents who support each other and much has been written on the subject of adoption, attachment, and early trauma.


If we as parents begin to educate ourselves and seek out help and support we not only help our children but also serve ourselves in taking care of our needs as parents. My hope is that all parents will be able to fully enjoy their journey of parenting.


Anna Dasbach, M.A., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, offers confidential, small groups for adoptive parents and sees clients: children, adolescents, couples, families and individuals in her private practice in Santa Cruz. She can be reached at 831-566-8077 or through her website:

Scotts Valley Library Introduces Special Needs Resource Center

Thanks to a grant from the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Scotts Valley Library will house a collection of books and materials for the special needs community.  Available starting June 2, the collection includes reference books, legal manuals, videos and DVDs either purchased as part of the grant or donated. Conditions addressed in the Special Needs Resource Center collection include Autism, ADD, ADHD, Tourette's Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Visual Impairment, Pervasive Developmental Delays, Dyspraxia, Bipoloar disorder, sensory processing disorders, Down Syndrome, Anxiety, Depression and OCD.


Parents, educators and individuals with special needs throughout the Santa Cruz Public Library System will be able to access these resources, which will be housed at the Scotts Valley Library. Internationally known therapist, author and lecturer Michelle Garcia Winner donated copies of all the publications produced by her company, Social Thinking Publishing. Available resources include addressing legal rights for those with disabilities, obtaining appropriate educational placement, dealing with siblings of a special needs child and much more.


The Special Needs Resource Collection is being made available through a $15,000 grant written by Elizabeth Walch, president of the Friends of the Library - Scotts Valley Chapter.

"We are so pleased that the library's commitment to providing resources and education to the community now includes the special needs community," said Elizabeth.  "We hope to obtain a similar grant next year so that we can continue to build on the Special Needs Resource Collection and do even more community outreach in support of our school system."


For more information on the Special Needs Resource Center, please go the Scotts Valley Library web site at


Submitted By: Carol Murphy, MA, CCC-SLP

The weird thing about the diagnosis of auditory processing disorder is that, although most everyone agrees on the variety of symptoms, the actual testing of it can differ widely. Assessments, and therefore instructive strategies, can fluctuate by state, district, profession and resources, both public and private. The California Office of Administrative Hearings for [Public School] Special Education has over 500 notices of fair hearings with the term Auditory Processing Disorder, meaning that either a parent or a school district was attempting clarification or a decision regarding some aspect of this disorder. Further, the California Speech-language Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board has published a notice- "It is incumbent upon the licensed audiologist and licensed speech-language pathologist to use only diagnostic assessments and therapies that are supported by rigorous empirical evidence.

While it is important to conduct research studies on new and emerging assessment tools, such studies should take place within the confines of an approved experimental protocol, and it should be clear to consumers that assessment with such tools is experimental only and provided at no cost. In keeping with B & P Code 51(b)(7), licensees are prohibited from making scientific claims that cannot be substantiated by reliable, peer-reviewed, published scientific studies." Even those websites designed to help navigate the issue can be confusing. This makes who really has it questionable and therefore what is done for it inconsistent. Just the term "auditory processing disorder" is one of those phrases that make parents and teachers ask,"What?"

The first step in understanding what auditory processing disorder (APD), or central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) means, is to look at the definition. This can be tricky because APD and CAPD are often used interchangeably making them seem like two different but related problems when actually they are the same problem. Essentially the disorder means the person can hear but the brain does not understand.

The symptoms are as follows:

Have trouble associating sounds with their meanings
Verbally indicate that they don't understand
Not respond consistently to the same sounds
Misunderstand a lot
Want things repeated a lot
Be easily distracted
Have trouble following oral directions
Not receive or express language well
Have a slow response to verbal instructions
Make mistakes repeating things that are said to them
Have trouble remembering things they hear

The second step in understanding APD is to see where the diagnosis is made, typically in the public schools. Unfortunately, this is also where things start getting get confused. The diagnosis of APD usually is made by the IEP team after a battery of tests administered by three professionals- the School Psychologist, the Speech-Language Pathologist and the Resource Specialist. Each of these professionals, within each school district, gives their battery of tests.

The School Psychologist gives cognitive and behavioral tests, assessments designed to evaluate various learning skills. The Speech-Language Pathologist gives speech and language tests to describe the student's abilities within that area. The Resource Specialist typically administers an academic test. Gathered together, these tests are designed to provide a valuable learning profile of the student. To qualify for Special Education- Resource Services, the student must usually be 2 grade levels below his/her current grade level and have a "processing disorder". In the IEP paperwork forms, under qualifying criteria, is where the boxes of different learning problems come in to play, because "auditory processing disorder" is one listed. And, it gets checked a lot.

However, this is also when the educational and medical diagnoses differ. In the public schools, auditory processing is an educational diagnosis, and is usually never tested by an audiologist. (This does not include the hearing screening done for students in the schools.) Further, if the original symptoms listed above are reviewed by the *asterisk, it is readily apparent that those symptoms are typical of students who have speech-language problems. In fact, research has repeatedly shown that well over 80% of all learning disabilities are language based.

So what is happening?

During the IEP meeting, most learning disabilities are classified or added- a speech-language disorder becomes auditory processing disorder, or auditory processing disorder is added to another problem in order to qualify a student for resource services.

So is it one or the other or both? "What?"

A history of "auditory processing disorder" might help begin to answer that question. Auditory Processing Disorder has been studied since 1954, when Helmer Myklebust, a researcher, emphasized its importance for those who had communication and learning problems. Then in 1977, a world-wide conference on the problem motivated considerable attention to the pediatric population. Since that time, Auditory Processing Disorder has been widely studied,symptoms have been delineated, tests have been developed and therapeutic strategies have been implemented.

But, this really only confused things more too, since all those researchers were from various disciplines latching on to the phrase "auditory processing disorder". It's enough to make anyone completely bewildered.

So, in 2005, the American Speech-language Hearing Association (ASHA), in an effort to clarify the term, published a technical report titled (Central) Auditory Processing Disorder. The group responsible for this report was a team of distinguished audiologists with expertise in the disorder. The report characterized (C) Auditory Processing Disorder as follows - "Broadly stated, (Central) Auditory Processing [(C)AP] refers to the efficiency and effectiveness by which the central nervous system (CNS) utilizes auditory information. Narrowly defined, (C)AP refers to the perceptual processing of auditory information in the CNS and theneuro-biologic activity that underlies that processing and gives rise to electro-physiologic auditory potentials. (C)AP includes the auditory mechanisms that underlie the following abilities or skills: sound localization and lateralization; auditory discrimination; auditory pattern recognition; temporal aspects of audition, including temporal integration, temporal discrimination (e.g., temporal gap detection), temporal ordering, and temporal masking; auditory performance in competing acoustic signals (including dichotic listening); and auditory performance with degraded acoustic signals (ASHA, 1996; Bellis, 2003; Chermak & Musiek,1997).

(Central) Auditory Processing Disorder [(C)APD] refers to difficulties in the perceptual processing of auditory information in the CNS as demonstrated by poor performance in one or more of the above skills. Although abilities such as phonological awareness, attention to and memory for auditory information, auditory synthesis, comprehension and interpretation of auditorily presented information, and similar skills may be reliant on or associated with intact central auditory function, they are considered higher order cognitive-communicative and/or language-related functions and, thus, are not included in the definition of (C)AP."

ASHA stipulates that (C) APD is an auditory neurological dysfunction, that is, physiological in nature, and that it must be diagnosed only after an auditory battery of tests performed by a certified audiologist, developmental history and speech-language evaluation by a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. In other words, the problem must be well documented, have a physical basis in auditory problems, and describe the communicative-cognitive behaviors of the client.

Let's face it - students spend 40 to 65% of their day listening, so it is not unreasonable to expect that school special education learning issues typically result in a conclusion of auditory processing disorder, especially since that is the way most state educational codes are written for the diagnosis of learning disability. (There must be a documented processing disorder.) However, research has estimated that only 2-4% of children have (C) APD and that it can exist with other disorders in the same patient, so a differential diagnosis is crucial and never should be done with only psychological testing, even though many of the actual names of tests given by school psychologists have the term "auditory processing".

No wonder everyone is confused. Even the test publishers use the term.

But a proper in-depth evaluation is crucial because the condition is uncommon and remediation strategies depend on an appropriate diagnosis. "To diagnose [true] APD, the audiologist will administer a series of tests in a sound-treated room. These tests require listeners to attend to a variety of signals and to respond to them via repetition, pushing a button, or in some other way. Other tests that measure the auditory system's physiologic responses to sound may also be administered. Most of the tests of APD require that a child be at least 7 or 8 years of age because the variability in brain function is so marked in younger children that test interpretation may not be possible." (Teri Bellis, Ph.D, CCC-A,, 2011)

To recap, it is important to know that there is distinction between the educational diagnosis of (C) APD and the medical diagnosis. The educational diagnosis is made in the public schools by a team for the purposes of qualifying a student for learning disability services. The medical diagnosis is made (usually) outside of the public schools by a certified audiologist who gives a battery of auditory tests in a sound proof room.

Why is this distinction so important?

Because in the public schools, the accommodations and strategies will be designed to help the student access the curriculum. They are educational in nature. Outside of the public schools, the interventions are therapeutic, meaning they are designed to help remediate the problem. This is not to say that educational strategies cannot be therapeutic or that therapeutic interventions cannot take place in the school setting, but it is saying that there can be a huge difference on emphasis and delivery, and therefore outcomes. Most times a student needs both educational interventions AND therapy, but only after it is clearly delineated WHAT the problem is.

Auditory processing disorder can look like many things and can be manifested alongside of many problems.


Okay, let's start over.

Carol Murphy, MA, CCC-SLP, Director- Speech, Learning and Psychology Services, Santa Cruz, CA,


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