How music helped my son’s speech & language development

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Dan Hughes provides some insights into the power of music to develop communication skills.

Some autistic children struggle to express what they want to say verbally (expressive) while others can speak with clarity, but have trouble processing and understanding language (receptive). In some cases, autistic children need help with both expressive as well as receptive speech and language challenges. Studies indicate that over half of children with autism have some level of speech and language delay and this became deeply relevant to me through personal circumstances. 

Before my son was diagnosed as autistic, his nursery picked up his speech and language delay. In my son’s case, it was the receptive side of language he wrangled with the most. We went to several classes, all of which helped give us the tools to help our son break down language while encouraging him to use his speech more frequently. It was a slow-burning process that required commitment, consistency, and patience.

Of all the tools that I feel helped to accelerate my son’s communication, however, music was one of the most effective. It was a really fun way to communicate, too.

My son has always loved singing and dancing—the combination of rhythm, rhyme, and melody has mesmerised him for longer than I can remember. So, adding melodies to certain words and phrases in the right context, encouraged my son to try them out for himself at various times throughout the day.

Singing a few songs to my son while I was playing on the guitar and turning various words and phrases into musical melodies gave us a platform to practise language in a way that was fun and engaging (despite my occasional screeching bum notes). So, I decided to buy a Casio keyboard.

This green little melody maker quickly became an essential part of everyday life. As my son had a keen interest in shapes and colours at the time, I decided to label the keys with dot stickers. I would write out colour sequences in words (my son has been able to sight read individual words since he was two years old) to use his special interests to his speech & language learning advantage.

I encouraged him to tap out melodies on his keyboard using his colour keys (some were fragments or nursery rhymes and some I made up), before adding simple phrases to them. I started with repetitive two to three-word phrases and gradually built little conversations into the mix. Doing this a little every day at my son’s pace really helped to bring his speech and language on. I believe it helped him get to grips with both expressive and receptive language in a way that he enjoyed. Most of all, it was fun—and where fun lives, communication thrives.

Rhythm and melody are a universal language, an inclusive medium that resonates with almost everyone fortunate enough to have hearing. Using music to help my son develop his speech and language skills not only proved to be a success for us, but it also taught me that while it’s important to put the time in, making sure what you’re doing is relaxed and engaging is the most important thing by far. If you don’t appeal to an autistic child’s interests, you’re unlikely to gain their attention for long. You can make the experience more interactive by using a musical instrument like a keyboard, guitar, triangle or maracas. Try throwing one of your child’s special interests into the mix (for instance, if they’re into cars, sing about cars or use toy cars to carry out actions when you’re singing). Work at your child’s pace, going as slowly as you need to while enunciating your words with as much clarity as possible.

I’m not a professional speech and language therapist. I’m an SEN parent who stumbled across something I found valuable and wanted to share my experiences. I hope this helps you and your child and if you want to run anything by me, feel free to get in touch. Best of luck.

Dan Hughes
Author: Dan Hughes

Dan Hughes
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Dan is a musician, content writer, and proud SEN parent.

Website: http://danielhughes.contently.com/
Twitter: http://@ogdensnutgone
Instagram: http://@the_SEN_life http://@dihugheswriter

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