by Jess Szabo;, Arts Writer
Music is a great blessing to all, but it may be especially important for those with Cerebral Palsy. As we celebrate Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month in March this year, it is time to honor both those who cope with Cerebral Palsy every day, and the music that can help them along their journey.
Music can help improve balance and motor skills
Everyone with Cerebral Palsy does not have the same physical issues or limitations. Those with severe forms of the disorder may find their movement restricted to the point of barely being able to move at all, while those with very mild cases may have only minor issues with balance, muscle tone, or fine motor skills. For those whose balance and muscle tone can be improved, music can help promote that improvement. Music can be linked to the person’s exercises to help decrease muscle resistance and improve balance. Dancing, even just socially and for fun, can improve both fine and gross motor skills.
Flint Rehab is an Irvine, California based company that makes rehabilitation and assistive devices for disabled people. On their blog, in an article medically reviewed by Elizabeth Denslow, OTR/L, the staff explains that rhythmic auditory stimulation is a form of music therapy that trains patients to match their steps to the rhythm of the beat of music. The therapist can then increase the beat of the music to help the person learn to walk at a steady pace.
Muscle tension is an issue for many people with Cerebral Palsy. Music can help alleviate this issue.
Many people with Cerebral Palsy grapple with muscle tension. Their muscles may be too loose, or they may be much too tight. For many, physical therapy is necessary to alleviate some of this excessive muscle tension. As with balance, music can be incorporated into other types of therapy to enhance the results.
Regardless of your disability status or particular disability, listening to music can be relaxing. Most of us can feel the tension drain from our bodies when we listen to our favorite music, whether we choose to dance to it, or to simply sit back at a concert, cafe, club, park, or in our home and enjoy the sounds and the atmosphere. This is especially important for those with Cerebral Palsy, who often must deal with muscle tension that is much more pronounced than in those who do not have Cerebral Palsy.
Listening to and linking words, sounds, and concepts with music can improve cognitive function in those who are impaired in that area.
Everyone with Cerebral Palsy does not have cognitive impairments or learning difficulties. People with Cerebral Palsy may function at a level far below their chronological years, or they may function at a high intellectual level. People with Cerebral Palsy may even hold academic doctorate degrees and professional positions.
For those who do struggle with learning and cognition, music can help. The person may be able to use music to improve memory, learn to make comparisons, and improve their ability to predict things.
Music can improve social skills and help in social situations
As with most disabilities, some of the hardest things for those with Cerebral Palsy to cope with are stereotypes and the attitudes and misconceptions of other people. Those without Cerebral Palsy often assume that those with Cerebral Palsy have some type of cognitive impairment, even if this is far from true. People with Cerebral Palsy are often presumed to be childlike, either innocent and docile, or prone to juvenile fits and temper tantrums. Assumptions may be made about what the person can achieve, what they will find interesting, or what they may want out of life.
Being approached this way by others can lead to social difficulties. Children with Cerebral Palsy may struggle to develop social skills simply because they are not offered the chance to socialize that those without the disorder take for granted. Becoming involved in a musical activity, or learning to sing or play music, can break down some of these social barriers.
Music’s ability to improve mood may be particularly beneficial to those with Cerebral Palsy
Most people with Cerebral Palsy have some sort of physical difficulties due to their impaired balance, muscle tone, and motor skills. Chronic pain is common. Those with Cerebral Palsy may also have problems with digestion, incontinence, vision, and hearing.Those who do have cognitive impairment may have difficulty learning, communicating, or remembering things.
These issues, along with the aforementioned stress of having to cope with the assumptions of other people, can lead to or worsen depression. This makes music especially important for those with Cerebral Palsy, as music has a well-documented ability to lift a listener’s mood and reduce stress.
For those with Cerebral Palsy, music alone cannot improve their functioning. People with Cerebral Palsy, along with anyone else who must cope with any kind of disability or impairment, should be treated by the appropriate doctors and therapists. But music can certainly be a part of their treatment, and their overall quality of life.
Music is important for everyone, regardless of a person’s disability or disability status. But for those with Cerebral Palsy, music can be an important tool to help them achieve their highest level of functioning.