Music and verbal language share some resources in the brain, and the tunes and words of songs are stored together.
Sometimes, when words can’t be accessed directly (enabling someone to speak) they can be retrieved through the music ‘route’ in the brain, through singing.
So, singing with the child can sustain their capacity to use words: include favourite songs from the past, but also introduce new ones on a regular basis.
Encourage parents to make singing a social activity that the whole family can join in.
Linking music and language
The Tuning In resources include micro-songs, which consist of functional, everyday language set to short tunes.
AmberPlus Music Resources
The micro-songs can be used to enable children and young people to keep communicating when words alone are difficult for them to produce.
Introduce the songs by downloading some that are of potential relevance to the child you are working with, and practise using them. Work with parents too, and encourage them to use the songs whenever the need to communicate arises.
Try improvising new micro-songs in response to the needs of the moment: ‘What would you like to drink, [name]?’, ‘I would like a …’.
Songs without words
The melodies of the micro-songs in Tuning In can be used as sound symbols in their own right – without the need for lyrics.
AmberPlus Music Resources
Just humming or lah-ing the tune to ‘No thank you’ or ‘Yes please’, for example, or even tapping the rhythm, can be enough to convey what is meant.
Through using materials such as these you and the child can use music as a proxy language, when speech is too difficult.
If the child you are working with communicates in this way, check that family members know the meaning of the tunes too, and are prepared to stimulate their use by singing themselves.
Try some of the techniques used by music, and speech and language therapists, to help the child exercise their voice and breath control to assist in keeping oral communication going.
Encourage the child to blow sustained notes on instruments like harmonicas, melodicas and kazoos.
Help maintain the rhythm of speech by tapping a regular beat on a drum or other percussion instrument.
Leave gaps at the end of phrases from familiar songs for the child to complete.
Make recordings of the child singing for future use
If the child is still able to speak or sing, record key phrases that can be activated by switches in the future.
These could incorporate functional language, such as ‘Yes please’ and ‘No thank you’ to facilitate choosing later on.
Switch-activated recordings will also enable the child to participate in music sessions when singing is no longer possible.
You could re-mix short phrases to build up musical textures using the child’s vocal efforts.
Sounds of reference
A child can use instruments or other everyday sound-makers to help make choices in the absence of language.
For non-verbal children, start by offering them two instruments to play (one in each hand) and try to ascertain which they prefer through any movement that is made.
If appropriate, move on to associate particular instruments or soundmakers with certain pieces of music through consistent use, to extend the child’s capacity to choose.
Try associating other soundmakers with people, activities or places so that further choices can be made.