19. (Bonus) Where words fail, music and art speaks by Karen McMahon

Music and art is one of the many ways for children to connect with themselves, but it is also a bridge in connecting with others. It is a medicine. It can heal. It can soothe. It can bring joy. It can be our escape. It can be the bridge that connects us to reality. Music and art are powerful tools and I have had first hand experience with just how much power they have.

2016-03-14 22.26.11I started offering music and movement sessions to local parents and children in my community in 2010. Seeing the benefits that music had on my own childs development I wanted to create a Programme that enabled all parents and children to connect and bond through music. Children learn and grow developmentally in a stimulating environment. By creating a fun and safe environment for the children to explore and discover new things they are straight away stimulated and interested, thus learning as they play. Over time  I was approached by a few local support groups looking for other activities to offer families with special needs. I was very soon involved in offering music and sensory art workshops to families involved with organisations like Down Syndrome Ireland and Enable Ireland, working with an array of children and teens with ASD, Down Syndrome and physical disabilities. Not having a background in special needs I was extremely nervous and apprehensive about what I could offer them. I was afraid of upsetting them, letting myself down and in turn creating more stress for the parents. My first session was with a group of 10 ASD children aged between 4-7yrs. It was very daunting. Chaotic. I had so many different personalities to interact with and attempt to engage. So many different children with various sensory processing disorders.  I was adapting the programme on the spot, as I went along, as I observed each childs very different reaction. Some were screaming at the top of their lungs, others ran around the room with their hands on their ears, some sat and didn’t move and others were stimming. After the session each parent spoke with me and raved about te success of the class. I was taken aback, success? i thought. I had other ideas of how the session went and successful was not one of them.I was pleasantly surprised and I was quickly drawn in and fell in love with these amazing children engaging and interacting with me and eachother, through music .

Over the years I have been lucky enough to work alongside many organisations, schools and families offering a very relaxed non threatening environment or them and their children to come to and explore themselves through music and art.

Music and art offer so many outlets of self-expression for everyone and is especially powerful when working with people with a disability or with an illness. It is a multi-sensory experience, can be non-verbal, using both sides of the brain and is a medium of communication and bonding. Going into a bit more detail here’s why music and art are so successful in assisting children with special needs.

2016-03-10 13.06.26Music and Art are Multi-Sensory Experiences:

Their tactile system is engaged because they are feeling the instrument or texture in their hands.

Their kinesthetic system is engaged as they move their hand and arms to make the instruments sound or paint with a brush.

Their Auditory System is engaged as they hear the sound of the instrument they are play.

Their visual system is engaged as they track the motion of their hands they are using to move the instrument or see the colours the create through art.

Music & Art is non verbal.

It’s the perfect tool to use as a means of communicating with a non verbal child. It forms a bridge, a connector. A child is able to communicate and express themselves through music or art without using words. It is a powerful way of communicating and expressing oneself.

2016-03-14 22.25.17Music and Art are processed in both hemispheres of the brain.

Its so amazing to witness a child when they are engaging in a musical or art activity, you can see all regions of the brain engaging simultaneously (sensory cortex, auditory cortex, visual cortex, cerebellum / coordination and balance, pre-frontal cortex and motor cortex, hippocampus / memory & amygdala / neurons.

Motivation & Bonding

Music and art can help motivate a child who struggles with language and general communication. Using instruments or art as a form of bargaining if you like, will encourage the child to communicate and make requests for specific items they want. Also engaging in these activities and having fun together releases the OXYTOCIN hormone or the cuddle hormones, singing together, moving and dancing or creating art is an important way you can connect with your child on another level. Siblings can also play a vital role in bonding through sensory art and musical activities.2016-03-14 22.21.06

Everyday I learn something new in work. I am always so thankful that I have the opportunity to work with so many different children, with mixed abilities and unique characteristics. Its a fulfilling and gratifying role as everyday is different, but always rewarding. I’ve experienced first hand children reaching milestones in the motor skills, social integration and language as a result of the programmes I offer. The parents play a fundamental role in the sessions. Encouraging, experiencing and exploring with their children is truly a gift in itself. Understanding the world  that their child lives in little by little…..

Karen lives in Ireland.  When not dancing on the bar in New York pubs she owns and runs Mini Musos, a community programme that channels her passion for children and music.

We are raising money to support DS Scotland… you can donate here…

www.justgiving.com/DownWithDad