Charlie was referred to music therapy just before his third birthday. In the Opportunity Group playroom, he appeared to be a child who did not engage or interact much with anyone, giving little eye contact and seemingly not noticing when staff or other children attempted to interact with him. Charlie didn’t use words to communicate and made very few vocal sounds, only expressing himself vocally when upset. Charlie had times in the playroom where he would seem ‘out of sorts’, unsettled and even a little grumpy.
Our sessions were short to begin with, at about 10 minutes each. This seemed to be all Charlie could tolerate at that time. As the weeks progressed, Charlie began to feel a little more comfortable with the room and myself, and our sessions grew in length to approximately 25 minutes.
Very gradually, with each session, Charlie began to engage a little more. Instruments with a high degree of visual interest, such as the ocean drum and the keyboard, seemed to attract Charlie’s attention. Charlie played with these instruments, and began to tolerate my playing on them alongside him. It still seemed crucial to go at Charlie’s pace, giving him time and allowing him to lead any sounds and interactions.
When it was time to end our session, I would sign and say “time to sing goodbye”, pointing to my watch as the sign for ‘time’. Charlie would come and point to my watch when he was ready to finish. I would play the guitar and sing our goodbye song. Charlie often danced and jumped during this song, and I would match his movements with the intensity in my playing. Charlie sometimes played himself, or took my hand and moved it more gently along the strings, giving lots of eye contact and smiles.
By the end of therapy, Charlie had made significant developments in all of the aims set out for him. Staff also noticed significant changes within the playroom. Charlie engaged more with adults and tolerated playing alongside his peers. He gave more moments of eye contact, and would give eye contact and smiles if someone called his name.
Music therapy gave Charlie the chance to develop a relationship in his own time and at his own pace. The musical instruments provided a non-verbal medium for self-expression, and through our music, Charlie was able to express himself, initiate interactions and develop his communication skills.
*name has been changed to protect confidentiality