Music is an excellent way to bond with children with special needs and help them reach developmental goals. Including typically-developing siblings and peers in the music session is a useful tool for connecting children with and without special needs. However, there are many things to take into consideration in order to make it a positive and successful experience for all.
- give typical siblings and peers a leadership role
- use age-appropriate music
- offer lots of honest praise
- provide specific instructions to typical siblings and peers before the musical activity
- ask typical siblings/peers to act as role models
- expect typical siblings/peers to know what to do
- ignore typical siblings and peers
- forget to make musical activities challenging for everyone
- underestimate kids
- end the session without praise
In order to keep typical children engaged and involved, you should give them a leadership role. For example, ask them to help pass out instruments and lead some activities. Kids like to feel needed and empowered.
If a 10-year-old typically-developing child is helping you in a session, it is a good idea to play songs other than “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Instead, play songs such as, “Lean on Me” and “Yellow Submarine,” which appeal to both younger and older children. These are great choices for a group that includes different ages and abilities.
Be sure to give typical siblings and peers lots of praise and positive feedback for their participation. Remember that you might have to change your demeanor and tone of voice with siblings and peers in order to talk to them on their level. After all, talking to a 10-year-old child in the same way that you talk to a 5-year-old child will probably backfire on you.
It can be very challenging for a sibling/peer to jump into a musical activity without any instruction or direction. Talk to typical children before the activity begins to let them know what to expect and how they can help you. Be straight with them about the specific needs and strengths of the child with special needs.
By having siblings and peers model desired responses, they are playing an important role on your team. If the child with special needs imitates them, the typical sibling or peer will usually feel a sense of pride for their contribution.
If siblings and peers jump into your musical session without any instruction, things might not work out well. Be sure to educate the typical children on their role and what you expect from them.
When working with a child with special needs, it is extremely tempting to give all of your attention to that child. But be sure to make lots of eye contact with the typical children and involve them directly in each activity.
Add an element of challenge to your activities, so typical siblings/peers feel challenged. For example, ask them to play a steady beat on a drum; teach them a chord or two on the guitar; or have them accompany a song using a tricky body percussion sequence, such as clapping their hands, slapping their knees, slapping the ground and slapping their shoulders.
Many kids are musically talented, so don’t assume they will have difficulty keeping a steady beat. For example, if typical siblings/peers join in a music therapy session and you give them a hand drum to play, do not be surprised when they can play complex patterns with perfect rhythm. This will make it fun for the typical child–and will make the music even more engaging and exciting for everyone involved.
After the music session, talk directly with siblings/peers and praise them for everything they did well. If there were things they did that were disruptive or counter-productive in the session, gently mention just one of them. Be sure your praise far outweighs any criticism.
Having typically-developing siblings and peers join in musical experiences with children with special needs can be wonderful if done correctly. The key is to create a positive, fulfilling experience for everyone.