Musical Therapy: What it can and can't do for dyslexia



I must admit - the first time I started hearing about musical therapy programs designed to help kids with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and a whole host of other learning differences, my initial response was pretty skeptical. Something along the lines of “what kind of hippy-dippy pseudoscience is this?” I mean, I was all for kids listening to classical music, but It seemed pretty ludicrous that listening to music every day would somehow “cure” these kids.


So, if you are still in the nonbeliever camp, I get it. But hear me out.


To be fair, the claim that these programs can “cure” dyslexia is indeed ludicrous. I get frustrated when I see people and companies advertising their new magic formula that will “cure” dyslexia. It’s everywhere. Articles with titles like “How this fancy diet cured my child’s dyslexia” and the like are all over the internet.


At Fearless Readers, we strive to improve the lives of the dyslexic children we serve by giving them the tools they need to reach their potential - not by “curing” their dyslexia. This is largely because we believe they aren’t broken and therefore do not need to be fixed.


We are passionate about exploring new, research based programs and technology that can help your child improve their weaknesses and hopefully even sharpen their strengths. And that’s where music therapy programs come in.


No, they won’t “cure” your child, but they can potentially make some great changes in your child’s brain to help bridge some of the gaps and even prime them for learning valuable skills in reading and writing, as well as a whole host of other benefits.


So, what exactly do I mean by “music therapy?’ Well I definitely don’t mean strapping some headphones on your child and playing Beethoven and Mozart for 8 hours a day (although a little classical music here and there never hurt anyone).


Musical therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals” (https://www.musictherapy.org/) and is specifically designed and orchestrated to impact the brain in a meaningful way. There are a variety of different programs out there to choose from and can involve passively listening to music, listening while completing certain tasks, playing an instrument, or singing.


But do they actually work?


That’s the question we want to explore with you today. The short answer is this: it depends on what you mean by “work” and what kind of progress you are looking for.


Regardless of what the program is or what their claims are, if someone is selling you something that they say will “cure” your child’s dyslexia or have them addicted to reading and performing at the top of their class in as little as 1 week…. be skeptical. Be very skeptical.


That being said, I am a big fan of music therapy programs because while they won’t cure whatever learning difference your child has, they can do so much to help them out. I’ll focus primarily on dyslexia here, but just know the benefits are in no way limited to just dyslexic children.


I’ve used a musical therapy program (I’ll talk about this specific program later) on kids to help them with auditory processing and various emotional and regulatory issues. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered how beneficial these programs can be for people who have dyslexia. There is actually a lot of exciting and solid research on this topic.


So, since I’ve already pointed out it isn’t going to cure their dyslexia, how is it going to help them? As it turns out, going through certain musical therapy programs may help people with dyslexia get better at reading.


Now let me be extremely clear here. Please do not expect your dyslexic child to go through only a musical therapy program and then magically be able to start reading. That is not at all how it works. But, completing a musical therapy program can help strengthen some of their weak reading-related skills (such as phonemic awareness) so that they are primed and able to achieve more success when going through the proper reading intervention program.


This is not a magic bullet, but it is pretty cool when you understand the science behind it and the potential it has.


“So, what is the science behind musical therapy programs?”


I’m so glad you asked.


An extremely helpful research article was published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal in 2016 titled Music and Dyslexia: A New Musical Training Method to Improve Reading and Related Disorders.


This article is dense with research and sources (65 different references) and if you want to go deeper than what I cover in this post you can access it for free here. I’ll be referring to this article throughout this post.


The introduction of this article dives into existing research on the connection between language-related areas of the brain and how music impacts them. Here are the main take-aways.


1. There are certain brain structures (the arcuate fasciculus and others) that are known to play a vital role in the language systems located in the left hemisphere of the brain. These same structures also happen to be involved with the process of singing or learning an instrument. (Halwani et al., 2011. Link to article here)


This is really exciting because if we can reach and stimulate some of the language-related centers of the brain through music, we may be able to strengthen some of the weaknesses related to dyslexia.


2. “If there are common underlying processes between music and language, especially between music perception and speech perception, one might assume that improving some of the processes involved in the perception of music can also improve speech perception and reading skills.” (quoted from article - see support citations in article link provided above)


3. One researcher designed an experiment to test this line of reasoning. Essentially, he created musical games for children with dyslexia that were designed to focus on skills related to language. After 15 weeks of training, he found “significant improvements...in phonological processing and spelling,” which are two critical weaknesses in dyslexia (Overy 2000, 2003. See full citation in article linked above)


4. Recent studies have found musical training to have “positive effects on reading skills and educational achievement in children and adolescents with dyslexia.” (Cogo-Moreira et al. 2012, 2013. See full citation in article linked above).


Further, the actual studies done in this article had interesting findings too.


5. After students engaged in a Cognitive Musical Training program for a period of time, they found significant improvements in “auditory attention, phonological awareness, reading abilities, and repetition of pseudo-words.” (link to article provided above)


So, what does all of this research mean? Basically, some specially designed musical training and musical therapy programs have the ability to stimulate, train, and strengthen the same areas of the brain that are also involved in various critical processes of reading.


I hope this is as exciting to you as it is to me!


In light of this insanely cool discovery that music may be able to help children with dyslexia, we at Fearless Readers are thrilled to announce that we are now partnering with Advanced Brain Technologies to provide The Listening Program (TLP) to our students.


What is The Listening Program (TLP)?


TLP is one of many music-based programs offered by Advanced Brain Technologies, a company that seeks to help people reach their potential by creating effective and neuroscience based music programs.


Advanced Brain Technologies provides the following description of TLP:


TLP is a neuroscience-based music listening therapy that involves listening to acoustically modified music, personalized to improve your brain performance, at any age or level of ability, in as little as 15 minutes per day

Essentially, TLP is an extremely easy to use and effective program that has been specifically designed and orchestrated to boost your child’s brain (or your brain - it wasn't designed for any particular age group and thus can be used for both you and your child).


TLP has 7 “Brain Focus Areas” that it works on including executive function, communication, auditory processing, social and emotional, stress response, motor coordination, and creative expression. You can customize your program by arranging these in order of most to least important.

Below is a snippet of their informational pamphlet:




As someone who has always loved music (listening… not playing. I have no skill there), I think it is amazing that we are now finding ways to harness the power of music to make a positive impact on people's lives.


It is amazing to me that listening to music has the potential to help all sorts of people overcome their challenges and achieve things they didn’t think would be possible. I’m eager to continue learning, researching, and sharing technologies such as this so we can help as many families as possible.


There are lots of great musical therapy programs out there, but if you are particularly interested in learning more about TLP, let us know! Click here to fill out our contact form and we’d be happy to schedule a free consultation so we can give you more information, determine if TLP is right for you, and help get you set up with the program.


Reference:


Habib, M., Lardy, C., Desiles, T., Commeiras, C., Chobert, J., & Besson, M. (2016). Music and Dyslexia: A New Musical Training Method to Improve Reading and Related Disorders. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 26. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00026

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