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Drumming with a child who has special needs

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Rhythm For Good reader Ray Watters of Drum With Us in the UK, recently asked me for some fresh drumming ideas and rhythm games to play with kids who have special needs. He specifically needs 1:1 ideas (rather than group).

I figured the best way to start brainstorming was to create a mindmap. Last weekend, Nat Mullis recommended to me this really cool online mindmap maker, and that’s what I used to start asking questions. (See above.) This mindmap is only a start, and with each individual kid, there could be a million more questions to ask and ideas to explore….

But I’ll get down to the nitty gritty to answer Ray’s question. Here are a few 1:1 drumming experiences you can share with kids with various needs. These ideas should be adapted tailored to suit the needs of your client.

1. Hello groovy movement song. Adapt: let the student choose his/her own movement. Also give opportunities for the student to sing it back to you. [audio:]

2. Copy Cat. I learned this one from Terri Weiner, music therapist in Oceanside, CA: “Copy Kat is the name of the game. Whatever Kat does, you do the same.” [call & response drum pattern here] Repeat a few times, then switch it over to “Copy Billy is the name of the game. Whatever Billy does, I’ll do the same.”

3. I like to play the drum song. [audio:]

4. Every Mornin. I learned this one from Kyle Lueken of Project Communicate: [audio:]

5. Tactile Stimulation. For tactile stimulation and more use smaller percussions and roll a cabasa on the student’s arm or use a shaker and chant about shaking it high, low, fast, slow, round and round, up and down. Place the student’s hand on an ocean drum to feel the vibrations. Gently move the student’s fingers across the head of a drum.

6. Movement. Incorporate exercises that involve crossing midline, strengthening the trunk, and reaching by holding the drums at a distance from the student.

7. Rhythm in the feet. Go to a room with hard floors, and place disco taps on the student’s shoes. Create rhythms with the feet. Or hold drums at the feet for the student to kick the drum (like a kick drum!).

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of checking in with your collaborative team (teachers, other therapists, parents, etc) to make sure you’re on the same page in serving the student to the best of your ability. In the US, we have Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) in schools that outline in detail the goals for the student across several domains… communication, mobility, social interaction, and more.

Music therapists use thorough assessments to help determine the best treatment plan for each child. The Individualized Music Therapy Assessment Profile (IMTAP) is an excellent example of a music therapy assessment.

Here are some resources: Involve Me Music, Listen and Learn, and more on my Good Reads page.

I’m only scratching the surface here, but I hope this sparks some new ideas for you, Ray! Anybody got some favorite 1:1 drumming/rhythm exercises and resources to share?

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