It is often said that music is the universal language that connects us all.
So it comes to no surprise that a chirpy tune could even be the bridge that helps educators connect with children who have developmental problems.
And the science does look promising.
While it is still not known among Malaysians who are outside of the field, music therapy is a well-established profession. It is a method that can help connect to mentally disabled children to address any physical, mental or social needs.
And for parents with developmentally disabled children, this could be a godsend.
Between Down’s Syndrome, Autism and other intellectual disabilities, children with these conditions are oftentimes overwhelmed by the amount of stimuli in the world, and as a result retreat into their own ‘worlds’, unable to express what they want or need, and even find it difficult to learn how.
Since music is often a social experience, teaching a disabled child through music proves to be a promising way to teach them social skills that we take for granted, such as manners and teamwork.
All the while, the children are able to experience the rare opportunity to interact with others on the same page, in a way that both parties can understand.
The video below is a real life example of how music therapy works.
After studying in one of the world’s foremost experts in music therapy for special needs education, Dr. Indra brought her passion home to become the head of Music in Special Education Division in UPM.
It was there that she met Chong Mei Ling, who entered UPM’s music department as a student 15 years ago. They only kept in touch every once in a while then, but in May 2015, Mei Ling discovered her own passion in music therapy when she attended the UPM Music Cares: Music Therapy & Autism Seminar.
Currently, Mei Ling is an established music educator in her own right, and is now pursuing her PhD in musical storytelling for differently-abled children, under Dr. Indra.
Together, they paved a way for music education for the disabled in Malaysia.
Music & Me
While they were happy to be the preachers of music education, the pair noticed a problem.
“I learned about parents’ and teachers’ pain. There is a severe shortage of therapists in Malaysia to cater to the differently-abled, difficulty finding access to therapists (most centered in Klang Valley) and high costs of therapy involved which went beyond what most Malaysians could afford,” said Dr. Indra about the issue.
At the time she didn’t set out to run a business, but instead wanted to find a solution to a problem.
So Dr. Indra and Mei Ling developed Music & Me, which is a home-based education kit that uses music to teach, stimulate and shape children’s communications and social skills regardless of their abilities.
To help parents who often incur high costs of educating a disabled child, the kit will only cost approximately RM400.
The founders also assert that besides being cheaper the kit is a good opportunity for parents to bond with their disabled children.
“We have taken into account the minimum amount of time needed to assert a therapeutic effect. It takes at least 15 mins a day of focused and concentrated training, based on our research.
We have also considered parents limitations (most are non-musically trained) and the hectic way of our modern lifestyle. Once parents invest in the kit they will be offered training and web based support along the way.”
The team is confident in the product that they have worked hard on. As Music & Me will be a therapy tool the team has made sure to conduct intensive R&D before they even thought to release the product for both parents and educators.
According to Dr. Indra, the responses have so far been overwhelmingly positive and the SME currently enjoys a 100% conversion rate for parents who have seen the product.
Dr. Indra was also able to recount some heartwarming memories with the launch of their product.
“We have a five year old boy with autism, minimally verbal, who was able to memorise, sing and then say the words to the entire first verse of our original song, demonstrate the correct facial expressions to the song in 1 week, with the help of his mother using the kit.”
Interestingly, the kit was tested for adaptability in different settings and the team found found that the educational objectives were highly relevant for regular kids from 4–9 years as well. There definitely is potential for this to find an even wider market to benefit all children.
Planning For The Future
Now that the kit is developed, the next step is to conduct more outreach workshops to equip more parents of differently-abled children with the knowledge and skills needed to be able to use this kit successfully at home.
Meanwhile, the pair will be walking the good walk by conducting more music therapy sessions to benefit more disabled children .
Dr. Indra was invited to conduct two music therapy in special needs workshops at the National Early Childhood Intervention Conference (NECIC) from Nov 24–26 this year. The conference was dedicated to special needs education, and both music therapy sessions were full house.
“Parents and teachers who attended responded very positively to music therapy. We acquired 31 more clients over the 2 days of conference, and 3 more invitations to develop a curriculum based version of the musical storytelling kit for classroom settings.”
Giving disabled children access to different opportunities to spark interest and communication is certainly a noble cause. Here is to a future in Malaysia where music therapy can become more accessible for even parents with low income.
Feature Image Credit: Music & Me.