Hello and happy Tax Week! Of course I’m being facetious when I say this, but as I type this I find myself marveling at just how this year has flown – anyone else feel like Tax Season has come on faster than usual this year? As a Music Therapist who works not just with one agency but several, some of them self-owned and operated, this can be a hectic time for me, but it’s not just with taxes – I find this time of year is littered with presentations and events for me as well. Next week will be the North Dakota School for the Blind’s annual Family Weekend event in Bismarck, and this week I want to issue a very warm welcome to any new readers after my presentation with the Dakota Chapter AER (Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired) in Aberdeen South Dakota! In preparing for this presentation on Music Therapy within the State School Model of Music Therapy (if you were a conference attendee you can enter the password given at the presentation to find copies of the handout here), as well as looking at just how many places I serve as I detailed them for our fabulous accountant, it dawned on me the that the topic of defining my role as a Music Therapist in all the places I serve was one that many of my regular readers might find useful to learn about and perhaps share with their own places of work, education, and living. My presentation with the AER crowd was specific to State Schools for the Individuals with Visual Impairment, so I’d like to start with some of the insights from that presentation, but over the coming weeks we’ll look at Public School Systems and Autism Classrooms, Community Centers serving Adults with Disabilities, and Adolescent Treatment Facilities, just to name a few. It’s going to be a fun ride and I hope you’ll join us for it all!
So, how does Music Therapy fit into the School for the Blind’s Educational Model?
In the field of Special Education, it’s widely known that the school day consists of Core Curriculum Elements (English, Science, Math, that kind of thing) and then you have your Expanded Core Curriculum, or those extra accommodations that a student with special needs has to have in order to have the best shot of functioning at or near the level of their typically developing peers. For students who have Visual Impairments, this can include areas like Braille learning and Orientation & Mobility. State Schools strive to meet students’ Expanded Core needs, either through residential services (i.e., the students live and learn on campus) or “Specific Skills” services like those the North Dakota School for the Blind (NDSB) offers, with itinerant outreach staff, like myself. I serve students who are able to leave their home schools to attend pre-scheduled “Programming Weeks” on campus at NDSB roughly once a month, and the other three weeks out of the month I travel around the state to see students with multiple disabilities who are unable to travel, as well as checking in on those students who do come to campus, to ensure that what they are learning on campus is being implemented back home. When I see students with NDSB, we’re looking at helping them do things like establishing Pre-Braille Skills and developing Body Awareness. I meet with them in their homes as infants and toddlers, then in their schools as they grow older, working alongside their parents and educational team members to contribute goals and objectives that can be inserted into their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and regularly monitored year round. Our sessions are full of one on one interactive songs either written by me, or found from other sources and tailored to meet each student’s specific needs, as well as discussion-based time with their parents and staff to help make the materials accessible for them to carry out in between visits. For those students who attend programming at the School for the Blind, they get exposure to music in a group setting, addressing areas like Dance and Braille Music with specific attention to how they, as students with Visual Impairments, can interact with the social scene that music is, and be strong advocates for themselves and their needs. Whenever I tell people this, they are often amazed that I do all this in only 20 hours a week – there’s more to my everyday life as a Music Therapist, and I look forward to sharing more specifics of my other roles in sites I serve, but NDSB is where I spend the largest chunk of my time, and Visual Impairment is what I’ll be earning my Masters Degree in this coming Fall (in fact, my thesis will be on the very topic of defining the role of Music Therapy with this population). What I love about what I do and the many different places in which I now do it, however, is that – with the education and qualifications that a Board Certification in Music Therapy has given me – I am able to offer something beyond just a knowledge of music or psychology, or anatomy: I am able to offer a “big picture” view of individuals with disabilities and how music can be used to enact real, positive change in their lives. It’s something that goes far beyond our eyes and ears!
Now, a little blast from the past: I always like to share some experiential learning whenever I give a presentation on Music Therapy, and this past week’s presentation on Visually Impairment is no exception! As we look at some of the populations I’ve touched on here at Music Moves, with renewed attention to the intricacies of my role with each of those populations, I’ll be including little songs and activities referenced here before as gems to take with you and try again if you haven’t used them in a while, or discover anew if you’ve never seen them before. This week’s share is the Musical Telephone game, which you can find in this post from my time at the Overbrook School for the Blind’s Braille Music Institute this past Summer. Until next week’s share on Music with Dual Sensory Impairments (individuals who are Blind AND Deaf), Enjoy!