Music therapy students work hands-on with children in the Preschool Language Lab

The children are lead through a morning exercise.
The children are lead through a morning exercise.

In the Preschool Language Lab (PLL), music therapy students work alongside communication sciences and disorders graduate students to assist young children develop verbal communication skills.

Welcoming melodies greet each child as they begin their day. The two music therapy students, recipients of summer undergraduate research fellowships (SURF) grants, use music to aid the graduate speech language pathologist’s (SLP) work with the children. The lab, made possible by Virginia Scottish Rite Foundation, has been in Waldron College of Health and Human Services (WCHHS) since 2008 and has been partnered with the Music Therapy program at Radford University since 2012.

Corey Cassidy, professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COSD) and associate dean of the WCHHS and a speech-language pathologist, partnered with Patricia Winter, associate professor of music and a board-certified music therapist at Radford University, to incorporate music therapists into the PLL.

A common goal

Children in the PLL face challenges ranging from speech and language difficulties to autism spectrum disorders. To assist the children with communication skills, SLPs focus on articulation and pronunciation. Robin de Azagra, a second-year COSD graduate student, said that having the music therapists has improved the overall clinical effectiveness of their work.

“It’s positive reinforcement,” de Azagra said. “We’re trying to tell them that communication is a way to get them something. Words are powerful. Music gives them the motivation to figure it out.”

Music Therapy students work hands-on in PLL

de Azagra said that the music therapists and SLPs have the same common goal: to enhance and improve each child’s ability to communicate or initiate communication with their peers.

“I think the best combination comes in when we give them an instrument, they want to play with the instrument,” she said. “Because they want that excitement and they want the music, they are more likely to do something for us. They’re more likely to say they want a drum. There is nothing more motivating than music at this point in the lab.”

Interprofessional collaboration

Interprofessional collaboration is a cornerstone of professional experiences in higher education – and for SLPs and music therapists, working off of each other’s abilities.

“They’re doing an amazing job,” Winter said. “I’m very impressed with their work. They’re risk takers as musicians, so they are comfortable just making up songs and doing things on the fly. They’re working well with their colleagues.”

Music therapy senior Skyler Cumbia, of Hanover, said that the collaboration happens each and every day.

“We meet throughout the week to plan the sessions and treatment. Every morning we have an informal meeting to come up with the game plan,” she said. “Throughout the session, we’re bouncing ideas off of each other, working with the kids. I’ve picked up on some of the prompts that SLPs are working on, like the ‘-ing’ sound. They’ve joined in on the music time and singing with the kids.”

Skyler Cumbia, center, leads the children in a music exercise.

Skyler Cumbia, center, leads the children in a music exercise.

Working with the children

The music therapists work to combat the fear of initiating communication amongst the children while they are in the PLL.

“There are opportunities for the children to work with each other, share instruments and primarily work on their expressive language, so there are lots of opportunities for them to say each other’s names,” Cumbia said. “They don’t even know they are working on it because they are just singing it.”

The SLPs and music therapists find out where each child is in terms of their abilities – and meets each child at their abilities to personalize their growth plan.

In a music setting, a variety of skills can be worked on, such as physical and cognitive. After a week at the PLL, the children had improved, including their ability to function within a group, said Cumbia.

David Blanco, a transfer student from Tidewater Community College and U.S. Navy veteran, is a music therapy senior from Falls Church. Blanco said that he’s been able to use music as a transition between activities and incorporating a music element helps.

During activities, Blanco gives the children the ability to express and vocalize themselves.

“A lot of the times, they just don’t know how to make certain sounds,” he said. “If we do a song that encourages the ‘-r’ sound, they may not be completely aware of what’s going on aside from it being a cool new musical piece.”

A hands-on experience

The applied experience allows each student to gain practical application of materials, techniques and other methods studied inside the classroom.

“You can’t learn these things by just reading a textbook or hearing a lecture – you have to do it,” Cumbia said. “It’s been beneficial for me to just do what I’m learning to do and learn from all the people I have the opportunity to work with on a daily basis. Ultimately, this has allowed me to become more confident in my clinical skills and my knowledge of what I am doing.”

de Azagra said that the experience has been the best interprofessional opportunity and experience for her in the program so far. “This is real-world,” she said.

“At the end of the day, we’re all working toward a common goal. I think it has really improved the way I look at working with other professions,” de Azagra said. “I see how much the kids benefit from it and it has definitely enhance my whole experience at Radford.”

Jun 25, 2018
Max Esterhuizen