Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Side Notes! A Common Sense Approach to Observing Earth Day.

Working in the music industry often puts me in contact with fervent believers in the peace movement, environmentalism, vegetarianism, animal rights, and so on. I do not officially take part in any of these causes, but I certainly don't hold it against anyone who does. I have many friends in music therapy and in the fine arts that participate in these movements. I do, however, like to take a more practical approach to taking care of our environment.

Earth day made me reflect on the recent controversy over global warming and how Earth day might play into that. While I think the jury is still out on determining whether or not mankind is responsible for any supposed global warming, I do believe that there are ways for us to be good stewards of the environment. I was walking in a park the other day and picked up a piece of trash along the pathway. I thought it was a shame that someone had left a candy wrapper on the ground. This sentiment also extends to all the cigarette butts that are thrown out on the side of the road. I propose that before we start getting all excited over what may or may not be global warming, we should take better care of our own backyards and neighborhoods! Pick up the trash as you go by and maybe we can use some more peer pressure to decrease the trash that is thrown out into the streets and empty lots around town!

Being a friend to the Earth does not mean you have to be politically involved. Just remember to, "Leave no trace," when you go on a picnic or walk in the park. If you take care of your own yard at home, be careful to only spread fertilizers and weed killers on the grass and plants so it does get washed into the storm drain. The environmental movement often addresses "big picture" ideas and causes but loses sight of the little things we can all do every day to take care of our world.

Pitch in and keep some of the beauty in our world!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Music for the Heart: Changing the Course of Depression and Heart Failure - Depression Raises Heart Failure Risks, Study Finds - Health News | Current Health News | Medical News

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The research, based out of Intermountain Medical Center in Utah, studied a large population of 14,000 heart patients. This new research contributes to a growing body of evidence that indicates how heart patients should change their lifestyle after having a heart attack. Previous research has already linked depressed mood and depression to increasing the risk of a recurring heart attack. Stress-induced anxiety can be a major cause of depression and negative mood so it is very important to find stress-management techniques after having a heart attack. One of the most interesting findings in this new research study is that patients taking antidepressants did not reduce their risk of heart failure. This finding emphasizes the need for alternative ways to manage stress and elevate mood.

Music can be an important component of a full rehabilitation program after a patient has heart trouble. Music as an aid to relaxation is a powerful tool in developing a routine of daily relaxation. Most people listen to some kind of music, even if it is just in the car. I have found that most people are able to implement more successful and more consistent relaxation times into their busy schedules when they use music as an aid. A person's preferred music makes the time pass faster and allows the person trying to relax to take their mind off of stress-related thoughts or in getting too caught up in the process of trying to relax a tense body. Careful selection of music as an aid in relaxation can also provide musical cues that help the body gradually relax.

Music is also invaluable in effecting mood. Mood is the state or feeling you have at a particular time. We often use music to reflect our mood state. Music may reflect mood through the tempo, style and genre as well as through the lyrics. In my experience, most people automatically match their music to their current mood without thinking about it. Sometimes it is simply the lack of music that may indicate a more depressed mood if music is normally played during a happier or more relaxed state of mind. People who need to change their mood for health reasons can use music to influence their state of mind. As they examine how they have personally used music in their lives, they may discover certain times that they use music in relation to their mood . With some cognitive effort, it is then possible to match music to a current mood and then gradually change it in the direction you want your mood to follow.

Music as an aid to relaxation and as an influence on mood are two very powerful tools for helping people after a heart attack or other heart problems. Since drug therapy is not always successful in combating depression or at least decreasing the risk of recurrent heart failure, it is becoming more important that we look for alternative ways to help in rehabilitation. The following articles contain related information about music and relaxation and music for a healthy heart:

Patient Resource Page: Music Strategies for Relaxation and Wellness

Nuts and Bolts: How Music Works for Relaxation

Friday, April 10, 2009

Carly Fleischmann: Blogger Extraordinaire!

I found Carly on Twitter after she started following me. I was so inspired by her blog and was very excited when she was able to go on Larry King Live. Her unique insight into how someone with autism thinks and processes sensory input from the world is invaluable for therapists like me. I think her story also provides some better understanding and hope for parents as well.

Carly is an articulate and insightful writer. This is especially amazing when you learn that she only started spelling out words a few years ago. Now she is able to type back and forth to people in conversation as well as write for presentation like she did on the Larry King Show.

Here is one passage from her blog that demonstrates her valuable contribution to the understanding of autism:

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know I am a girl with autism that learned how to spell and is now able to tell people what I think. It’s not like I built a thousand houses in New Orleans or found a way for people who don’t have food get food. I think the only thing I can say is, don’t give up; your inner voice will find its way out. Mine did.”

I have linked to her blog under My Favorite Blogs in the sidebar. If you want to follow her on twitter go here. I will continue to follow her and hope for even more understanding of what might be going on inside some of our other clients, students and loved ones.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tuned In To Learning: Kid Tested and Therapist Approved!

I feel like I might be late to the party on this topic, but better late then never! The "Tuned in to Learning" (TIL) program has been around since 2004. I think I have seen it around, but never got a chance to look into it. After all, there are so many new music programs for learning out on the market! Until now, I have not found one that I could wholly recommend. TIL had the advantage of being developed by music therapists and an autism specialist who field tested it before it was presented to the public.

TIL addresses many of the problems I have with using recorded music for therapeutic purposes in the education setting. For example, most recorded music is too fast and provides too little space for learners with disabilities to participate successfully. Much of the children's music also caters to kids in the general education setting with lyrics that speed by and contain advanced vocabulary. TIL successfully manages these issues and takes it a step further by using lyrics to provide directions and information.

I tried out some of the songs during recent music therapy sessions to see how the kids would react. I used various songs from the TIL sample CD in an early childhood setting, elementary school and high school classes. In every instance I was impressed that the children immediately participated in the songs and quickly learned what do to. I feel this is an important indicator because sometimes it takes children with disabilities a few times experiencing a new song before they really start participating. I also found that the songs allowed plenty of time for my clients to respond verbally or follow modeled movements to the music. I was able to use the songs during therapy without a problem since they directly addressed some of the goals and objectives that I have been working on with my students.

The TIL music comes with picture books, printable content and sometimes a DVD or CD-ROM. The music I have listened to so far is very pleasant with catchy tunes and nice sounding vocalists. They have employed clever instrumentation and arrangements so that the music often provides cues for actions and words. Each learning module is centered around a theme, so teachers, home-schoolers and parents can buy appropriate material such as, "Social Skills and Pragmatics," or "Wh Questions," if they can't afford the entire set, although I believe many school districts have purchased the full curriculum. I am always looking for good materials to recommend to my classroom teachers so that they can do music activities with goals and objectives in mind in between my therapy visits. I highly recommend this Tuned in to Learning series.

Tuned in to Learning

Friday, April 3, 2009

Side Notes! Special Olympics takes on the word 'Retard' - Special Olympics Launches Campaign to Ban 'Retard' - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News

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This story came out on Wednesday and it has prompted some good discussions at the schools among special education teachers. Of course, we love the Special Olympics program and many of our students enjoy great times and success at the annual events. Most of us feel, however, that the Special Olympics program may be misappropriating time, money and publicity for this campaign.

I find the campaign against the word problematic in several ways. I think SO is focusing on the negative instead of the positive. I would rather see promotions of accomplishments rather than the focus on a word that describes limitations or disabilities. I am not a big fan of the "word police" in general. Words have meanings and should be used correctly in the appropriate situations. It also seems like some of the people involved in the SO campaign want the word completely banned from use. Obviously, there are appropriate uses for the word, "retard," since it literally means to slow down or delay the progress. It is often used in science and mechanics to describe processes or machinery. (See In music we use the word,
ritardando, and often just say, ritard.

I think a better way to approach the situation is to change hearts and minds. The audience SO is trying to reach is mostly kids or crude, perhaps uneducated people. This is not a group likely to be swayed by people telling them what words they can use! If we can change their outlook on people with disabilities and demonstrate their accomplishments and amazing creativity and spirit, then people will be unlikely to use a disparaging word. It is unfortunate that even our current president may need a change of heart. His remark about bowling like he was at the Special Olympics was definitely a "foot in the mouth" moment, but I can't imagine me or one of the teachers I work with ever saying this on television or even to one another. We probably have a lot of hearts and minds to change since it was the American people who elected someone that said this!

I hope SO can keep the conversation at a high standard and respect the word. All of the school districts I work in still use "Mental Retardation" as an official category for labeling a disability. We always try and use "person first" terminology (i.e., a person
with mental retardation, someone who has autism, rather than he or she is autistic or mentally retarded) so that the label does not define the person, but I don't see the term going away any time soon.

What do you think? I think this deserves some discussion if only in the larger context of language and dialogue in America. I don't want the descriptive labels we use in working with people with disabilities to undergo the same controversy that has happened with phrases like "illegal alien" having to be changed to "undocumented worker." I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I think Special Olympics could better allocate their resources than buy into they hype around "political correctness."

Please let me know if you fell I have missed seeing or understanding something. I am open to ideas on the subject.

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