Music Therapy Helps Special Needs Students

Research that aims to improve the use of music among New Zealand special needs students is drawing international attention.

Music therapy is the use of music by trained professionals to achieve therapeutic goals, such as improving physical skills, social and cognitive development.

Daphne Rickson, a music therapy lecturer at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington is working with teams of parents, caregivers, teachers, teacher aides, and therapists to help them use music more effectively with special needs students, in mainstream settings.

Her three-year PhD project has attracted attention from a Thai school. Adrian Jones from Sarasas Ektra Bilingual School met Ms Rickson recently to discuss working together to find ways to use music to help students with learning disabilities and communication disorders, as well as gifted learners, at his school in Bangkok.

Ms Rickson says her work addresses the cultural context and is a model that is likely to be helpful for many other countries.

“While ethnicity is relevant, education and special education communities, special schools and mainstream schools, and families, all have their particular ways of doing things. It’s a matter of sharing knowledge and expertise.”

Ms Rickson has been working with schools throughout New Zealand that are managing children who have very high needs, and says the feedback has been extremely positive.

“Working as a team, we consider how music is currently used in the school with individual children who have special needs, and how that might be developed or extended with the student’s developmental or educational goals in mind,” she says.

Her project aims to help teams address practical issues, and develop specific skills for working with children using music.

“The outcomes will include protocols for music therapists undertaking consultation work, and advice and resources for educators on how to embed music more systematically in teaching programmes for both general learners and those with special needs.”

Massey University and Victoria University jointly operate the New Zealand School of Music, a centre of musical excellence. The website is: