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  • Sierra Verity-Beasley

Speech pathology vs Music Therapy - Which one should you choose for your neuro-divergent child?



As a parent of a neurodivergent child with Autism or speech delays, it can be overwhelming to navigate the various therapies available.


Speech pathology is the most commonly referred from your child's paediatrician but music therapy is an often overlooked approach to supporting your child's language development and overall communication. But... how do you know which one is the best fit for your child?



Let's explore the differences between speech pathology and music therapy, to help you make an informed decision.


 


Music Therapy

Music therapy is a holistic approach that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. It can include singing, playing instruments, and movement to music, and in Australia is led by a registered music therapist. Music therapy can help with communication skills, sensory processing, emotional regulation, and social skills.

Motivation to engage

Before learning anything, our children need to be motivated to engage with us! Music therapy can be particularly engaging and motivating for children, as it involves enjoyable and familiar music and activities. Music therapy has been found to be particularly effective for children with autism in promoting what's know as 'joint attention'. Joint attention is essentially the foundation of all social interaction, and is what your child needs to have in order to learn new concepts from others (you, teachers, therapists) which is why often children are learning from YouTube videos and movies they love so much (for better or for worse).


Why is it so motivating? Because music is:

  • Familiar and well-known,

  • Engaging for aural/visual/vestibular-seekers,

  • Music has a predictable structure and rhythm.

These features can also help children with autism anticipate what comes next, reducing anxiety and allowing them to feel more in control during their therapy sessions.


The whole child

While any really great speech pathologist will be thinking about your child's holistic needs and will bring engaging play-based activities to their sessions, Music therapy is often a holistic approach by default, addressing multiple areas of physical, emotional, social and cultural need simultaneously.


For example, music therapy provides a multisensory experience, engaging children in a variety of ways, including auditory, visual, and tactile and vestibular (movement)-based activities. By using music to create a shared experience, music therapists can help children with autism and other neurodivergence learn to regulate their sensory needs, their emotions and increase joint attention, leading to improved communication skills and overall social interaction before you even start working on speech-based goals.


Building confidence

Music therapy can be a powerful tool for building children's confidence in speech and communication. Singing or playing instruments can provide a non-threatening way for children to practice vocalization and speech skills in a fun and enjoyable way. It also means there is less focus on communication through use of voice, and allows for communication through other means!


The rhythmic patterns in music can also help with the natural pacing and timing of speech. Additionally, music therapy can be an effective way to address underlying emotional and social issues that may be impacting a child's speech confidence. By creating a safe and trauma-informed supportive environment, skilled music therapists can help children feel more comfortable expressing themselves and taking risks with their speech. This increased confidence can carry over into other areas of their lives, helping them to communicate more effectively and engage more fully in social interactions.



Speech Pathology

Broadly speaking (pun intended!), Speech pathology is a therapy that focuses on improving speech and language skills, including comprehension, expression, and social interaction. It often involves one-on-one sessions with a licensed speech-language pathologist, who works with your child to develop specific goals and strategies. Speech pathologists can provide assessments for your child, as well as help with swallowing and drinking.


Targeted speech goals

Speech pathologists, also known as speech therapists, work with children to help them achieve targeted speech goals. While music therapists can support targeted speech goals as well, Speech pathologists have the skill and training in identifying the areas for development, and understand the stages of language and communication development in-depth.


These goals may include improving speech clarity, enhancing vocabulary and grammar skills, and developing social communication skills. Through a variety of techniques, such as articulation therapy, language intervention, and play-based activities, speech pathologists provide children with individualized support to overcome speech delays and disorders. By working closely with children and their families, speech pathologists can help children achieve their communication goals and improve their quality of life.


Assessments

Speech pathologists can conduct a range of formal assessments to evaluate a child's speech, language, and communication skills (whereas music therapists can only provide observational assessments). These assessments can include standardized tests, informal observation, and parent or teacher interviews. Some of the assessments that speech pathologists may use include articulation tests, which evaluate a child's ability to produce speech sounds correctly, language tests, which assess a child's understanding and use of language, and fluency tests, which evaluate a child's ability to speak smoothly and without stuttering. Additionally, speech pathologists may use assessments to evaluate a child's voice quality, pragmatic skills, and social communication abilities. These assessments help the speech pathologist create a targeted treatment plan to help the child achieve their speech goals.


Funding

In Australia, Speech Pathology session can be funded through a range of options, including Medicare and NDIS (talk to your GP about your specific funding options!).


Currently, Music Therapy can only be funded through NDIS plans or within broader organisations that support music therapy through their existing programs. For some, funding is a major barrier and something they must seriously consider when choosing the right therapist for their child.



Why not both...?


So, in conclusion, which one should you choose for your child? We know early intervention is key in supporting your child's development and well-being. If you have the means and funding to consider both therapies, Music and Speech pathology are extremely complimentary in supporting your child's language and communication development! In fact, I personally work alongside wonderful speech pathologists every day that work with my clients in their music therapy sessions, with great results!


However, if funding is tight; the answer depends on your child's specific needs and preferences. If your child needs assessment, already has confidence in their interactions with others, and has their sensory needs met, speech pathology may be the better choice.


However, if your child needs additional support in joint attention, confidence, sensory regulation and responds well to music and enjoys singing or playing instruments, music therapy could be a great option.


Ultimately, the decision comes down to your child's unique needs and interests. It's important to consult with professionals in both fields, and to take your child's preferences and personality into account. Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to therapy for neurodivergent children. At the end of the day, what matters most is finding a therapy that your child enjoys and that helps them make progress. Whether you choose speech pathology, music therapy, or a combination of both, the most important thing is that you're taking steps to support your child's development and well-being.



 

- Sierra Verity-Beasley, Registered Music Therapy






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