Guest blog from Daniel Stein, Founder of Special Strong, an incredible organization that provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities in DFW & North Texas.
Fort Worth Opera's Children's Opera Theatre is thrilled to have Daniel Stein, NASM, NFPT, ACSM CIFT-CPT, Founder of Special Strong, with us as our first guest blogger! Not only is he a Certified Special Strong Trainer and Autism Fitness Trainer, but he is a TRX Trainer and Special Needs Personal Trainer.
As FWO continues to develop our inclusive Relaxed Performances program for audience members with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Asperger’s syndrome, Down syndrome and those with sensory differences, we look forward to collaborating with Daniel and the incredible staff at Special Strong!
Special Strong Mission:
Special Strong seeks to empower the mind, body, and spirit of the special needs population with the strength and confidence to live a more independent and abundant life. Through our services, values, and culture, it is our desire to unlock potential and unleash the “Special Strong” within every person!
Behavioral therapy among children with special needs, particularly autism, has become increasingly popular — and for good reason. It helps children healthily express their feelings and encourages socially acceptable behavior in group settings. However, music therapy is a method that doesn’t get enough credit within the special needs community. Not only does it make both children and adults with special needs happier and more relaxed, but it also has a number of psychological and neurological advantages.
Here are the top 5 brain benefits of music therapy for individuals with special needs:
1. Reduces Anxiety and Stress
Music therapy reduces anxiety and stress, whether the patient has special needs or not. Music is mathematically designed to tap into human emotions. When patterns arise in sounds, tonally pleasing to the ear, there’s a natural reduction in high-stakes emotional responses, including the fight-or-flight response triggered in the central nervous system.
(Of course, this also depends on the type of music. Faster paced music will raise heart rates, especially if it inspires the patient to dance. However, dancing can also be therapeutic for reasons we’ll explore later.)
Music therapy can be especially beneficial for individuals with special needs because cognitive disabilities hinder a person’s ability to interpret their environment and communicate their wants and needs, which can be inherently stressful and anxiety-inducing.
2. Encourages Self-Expression
People with special needs — even those on the more independent side of the spectrum — have a tough time expressing themselves: Our society prizes the spoken and written word above all else, so special needs individuals, who have a hard time pairing words with their feelings, thoughts, and desires, are often left to their own frustrations.
This is where “meltdowns” can occur. In music therapy, however, new possibilities arise.
Music makes you move, even if you don’t know how to dance. Music can express a feeling or a thought without using words. Special needs individuals can learn to dance and to make music to express themselves, giving them a new, healthy outlet for their emotions.
3. Fine-Tunes Fine Motor Skills
Because music inspires movement, it gives people with special needs the opportunity to practice their fine motor skills. Slower songs make you want to sway, while faster songs evoke faster movements: foot tapping, head bobbing, humming, and more.
This quicker, micro-movements can train the individual with special needs to be more precise with their physical expressions, a skill they can carry with them outside the therapy session and into their day-to-day lives.
4. Improves Cognitive Skills
As we’ve outlined above, music isn’t just a fun past-time. It’s a formula for emotional expression and artistic interpretation. Music can literally change mental patterns: You’ve probably noticed this yourself if you’ve put on an upbeat song when you were upset, seeing an immediate change in your mood.
For people with special needs, music therapy improves cognitive skills including symbolic interpretation, pattern recognition, memory retention, and more.
5. Eases Sensory Sensitivity
Oftentimes, individuals with special needs are sensitive to certain sensory experiences. For example, people with autism can be irritated by certain clothing fabrics, as the nerves in their skin register the texture more harshly than those without sensory sensitivity. Loud sounds can also be a big trigger. Music therapy eases this sensory sensitivity in people with special needs, even senses beyond hearing.
Strong Education provides adapted fitness for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs certification courses for educators, professionals, and parents who want to learn how to adapt fitness to serve the special needs population. Fitness franchise opportunities are available.