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Published July 15, 2012, 11:30 PM

Music therapy can be bridge over troubled water

FARGO – The other day Hannah Klooster refused to take a bath.
The 4-year-old screamed and threw a fit so her mom, Taryn Klooster of Glyndon, Minn., started playing some of Hannah’s favorite songs and lay down next to her on the floor.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO – The other day Hannah Klooster refused to take a bath.

The 4-year-old screamed and threw a fit so her mom, Taryn Klooster of Glyndon, Minn., started playing some of Hannah’s favorite songs and lay down next to her on the floor.

“We were singing and she started to smile and I got her in the bathtub,” Klooster said.

Klooster started her daughter, who was diagnosed with autism, in music therapy last fall and she’s seen her daughter’s behavior transform.

“She has social delays because of her autism, but she’s so much more interactive when there’s music,” Klooster said. “She’s more interactive with other children when there’s music around. She makes eye contact consistently. She’s just a happier kid when there’s music. She’s learning to follow directions.”

Hannah is also able to express her feelings through song, Klooster said.

“Her actually saying ‘I feel happy’ is huge,” she said. “It’s just been amazing.”

Hannah’s 2-year-old sister, Ali, also participates in the sessions. She isn’t autistic, but music therapy gives the girls something to do together and it’s brought them closer together, Klooster said.

Before music therapy, Hannah didn’t have a lot to do with Ali, but now, they’re little buddies, she said.

Anna Driscoll, Hannah’s therapist and a therapist with Music Therapy in Motion, said a big way music therapy helps students with autism is by using music to organize concepts like social skills or academic skills.

They play instruments, sing and dance throughout the sessions, and use a “hello” song to talk about appropriate greetings and a feeling song to acknowledge their emotions, she said.

Music therapy has also helped 5-year-old Logan Frank, who has autism, learn patience, taking turns, self-regulation, and better communication, said Kristin Frank, Logan’s mom, of Moorhead.

He’s learning how to read music and play the guitar.

“Music for him is extremely therapeutic and beneficial,” Frank said.

He gets very excited on his music therapy days, Frank said, adding that Driscoll, his therapist, has become like family and is one of the people he trusts wholeheartedly.

“Music truly is the universal language,” Driscoll said. “Whether or not we have the ability to communicate in the first place, music has the ability to bridge the gap. Music is able to express feelings we can’t ourselves.”

People often use music therapy without even realizing it, Driscoll said. One way they might use it to cope with a strong emotion, like anger, is by blasting music when they’re upset, she said.

“Whether or not we’re aware of it, music is a really big coping skill for a lot of us,” she said. “That’s how we allow ourselves to cope and be more in-tune with ourselves.”

Driscoll also works with children and adolescents with chemical dependency and mental illness at Prairie St. Johns and the Fargo Public Schools special education department. She said working with teens and adolescents can be a challenge, but she uses popular music as a way to connect with them. Drumming circles are also effective, she said.

“At first it’s a little chaotic and it’s a lot noisy, but by the time we get to the end of it, we’ve kind of found this groove,” Driscoll said. “It feels good physically, it feels good emotionally, and it just sounds good. You’re able to let out some of those negative feelings and emotions.”

By the end of the session, even skeptical students are smiling and tapping their toes, she said.

Last week, the North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind held a braille music institute where music and drumming were used to work on skills like auditory tracking, tracking sound as it moves across the room, and working together as a team, said Natasha Thomas, music therapist and braille music specialist.

The students also learned to read braille music, create music on a computer and interpret music.

“That’s sort of a unique focus, too, where we merge music education and music therapy together to try and create something where students are learning both about music and through music,” Thomas said.

Thomas also uses music therapy at the North Dakota School for the Deaf. Students have varied hearing ability – some may not be completely deaf, and many have implants that allow them to process sound, she said.

Thomas plays games with the students to help them learn to distinguish between sounds. They also use the beat of a drum to work on impulse control.

“That’s something students who are deaf really struggle with because they can’t hear someone tell them to stop, so waiting is not something that is a very natural thing for them,” she said. “Working on rhythm really helps them build that concept of waiting because the beat doesn’t work if everybody is banging away on the drum at the same time.”

Music therapy can also help people who have language impairment due to a stroke, Thomas said. She once had a client who knew what she wanted to say, but couldn’t always find the right words.

“A lot of times music therapy is useful for conditions like that because we can sort of reroute around the path of the brain that’s been damaged,” Thomas said. “Music uses all of your brain, as opposed to just one side like speech does.”

Her client could finish entire sentences if she would put the words into a familiar song, Thomas said.

Music therapists will often collaborate with physical, speech, or occupational therapists to help encourage clients to do something they might not want to do otherwise, therapists said.

Jess Karstens, a music therapist contracted by Fargo’s House of Everyday Learning, has worked closely with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists. When combined with music therapy, clients are able to work longer and harder than they would otherwise, she said.

“One of the main reasons I love what I do is it’s one of those tools that can reach so many people,” she said. “People show you they can do things in ways you never expected.”

Karstens works with clients ranging in age from infancy through 97 years old.

“Music is one of those things that crosses all cultures, crosses all ages,” she said. “It’s really motivating for people.”

Her work with infants has been on parent-child interactions and helping create stronger bonds for at-risk families, she said.

Music therapy helps her elderly clients combat diseases like dementia, she said.

“They may not remember what they had for breakfast, but they can sing songs that they used to sing in church or those songs they sang when they were a kid in school,” Karstens said. “Sometimes it will bring them around to be lucid for a while.”

Music therapy is a very powerful tool, she said.

Even so, most health insurance plans typically don’t cover music therapy, said LaDonna Bannach, executive director of the House of Everyday Learning, a Fargo-based non-profit started in 2009 to help provide therapies, like music therapy, people might not be able to afford otherwise.

The programs are provided at a significantly reduced rate for participants, but there are also scholarships available based on financial need, Bannach said.

“I just wanted to make a difference to make it available for all families,” she said.

North Dakota was the first state to pass a music therapy licensing law, said Thomas, who was on the board that helped oversee the licensing requirement.

“I think people are starting to understand that music therapy is a really expansive field that has credentials and that has standards that are evidence-based and backed by research,” Thomas said.

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