kids

The simple thing that turned this little boy’s life around.

Tommy* is three-years-old and has never interacted with his mother.

The family life his mother imagined, the soft cuddles, the loving interactive play flew out the window when she and her husband first realised that Tommy wouldn’t make eye contact and refused to speak.

He was diagnosed with autism and their lives changed.

Tommy’s mum threw herself into every kind of therapy she could. She was determined. She would do anything for her son.

Tommy has never interacted with his parents. Via IStock.

On a recommendation she tried music therapy.

Each week she would sit with her son and they would enter the world of music.

Until one day there was a breakthrough.

A series of breakthroughs in fact, and the first was for Tommy’s mother. Tommy’s mother found she was, for the first time, enjoying being with her little boy without focusing on his autism. She was enjoying playing with him.

“A success story” his music therapist says.

Through music therapy he benefitted too. He began to stay and play longer with his mum, he began to use a few words and he developed new social and developmental skills.

“Because it was enjoyable, she didn’t have to make her child join in – it turned it all around for them as a family.” Tommy’s therapist, Dr Grace Thompson told me.

“They were reminded he was a child, not just a child with autism.”

Music therapy incorporates a range of music-making methods and through a therapeutic relationship helps all sorts of children.

From children with complex and chronic health conditions, like autism, cerebral palsy or intellectual disabilities to even children with life threatening illness.

Dr Grace Thompson. Image supplied.

Dr Grace Thompson, the President of the Australian Music Therapy Association says that the ways music therapy helps children can vary.

“For some of those children that will be skill development, around improving social skills, communication skills, motor skills. But for others it will be around quality of life. It will be around them being able to express who they are, their identity, communicate with their family and loved ones."

Dr Thompson says that music is an amazing stimulus for the brain.

"The whole body is involved; the whole brain gets a workout when we are making music together.”

“From an evolutionary prospect music has always been used to connect people together.”

And that’s exactly what these music therapists are doing.

They sing songs, make songs, write songs, they move to music, dance.

“Anything to get children to engage to use and want to be involved. I have found that music can turn a child’s life around because they want to engage with you.”

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“From an evolutionary prospect music has always been used to connect people together.” Via IStock.

In animation, for privacy reasons, the Australian Music Therapy Association have shared the story of several of their patients.

There is Rose, who was born prematurely and spent her first weeks in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).

Rose was only able to bond with her parents during music therapy sessions with a music therapist. When the music is played her, or her parents hummed and sung, her heart slowed and her parents relaxed just for a moment in their stressful time.

And then there is Jackson.

Jackson has difficulty controlling his body, he finds it hard to focus or use his voice to communicate.

Watch how music therapy helped Jackson:

Dr Thompson is speaking out because she wants others to realise just how valuable her profession is. She wants fellow musicians to consider music therapy as a career, she wants those who need it to get it. She wants more music therapists to change more lives.

Currently, Victoria and New South Wales are the only two States that offer an AMTA-accredited course. But Dr Thompson says the demand for RMTs outweighs the number of services available, with statistics showing that the average ratio of RMTs to people in these areas is approximately 1:50,000.

Music therapy changes lives.

“Australia needs more RMTs and we want to ensure that Australia’s most vulnerable don’t miss out on the life-changing services that RMTs offer – we believe by raising awareness of the work RMTs do, we can increase demand for accredited courses in States and Territories that need it most,” Dr. Thompson said.

“RMTs are a vital element of our healthcare system and ensuring their services remain accessible is our main priority,”

Dr Thompson wants more people to understand what music therapy can do.

“It changes lives” she says.

“It turns these children around.”

*For privacy reasons Tommy's name has been changed.

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