Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kindle Some Fun!

The local music therapists in Dallas/Fort Worth have recently been discussing the merits of digital readers. They mentioned the Kindle from Amazon which I have already had highlighted on Music Makes Sense for the last year. Amazon just came out with their newest version which uses 3G technology.

I think these devices are great ideas for therapists! They are super portable and won't add much to the huge amount of stuff music therapists usually port around. I imagine having song books and picture books at the tip of my fingers without the extra weight! Because they are 3G, you will also be able to download selections wherever you are and use the materials almost in real time.

Here is a nice video about how it works:

And some details about the Kindle:

Slim: Just over 1/3 of an inch, as thin as most magazines

Lightweight: At 10.2 ounces, lighter than a typical paperback

Books in Under 60 Seconds: Get books delivered wirelessly in less than 60 seconds; no PC required

3G Wireless: 3G wireless lets you download books right from your Kindle; no annual contracts, no monthly fees, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots

International Coverage: Enjoy 3G wireless coverage at home or abroad in over 100 countries.

Paper-Like Display: Reads like real paper without glare, even in bright sunlight

Carry Your Library: Holds up to 1,500 books

Long Battery Life: Read for days without recharging

Read-to-Me: With the experimental Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book's rights holder made the feature unavailable

Free Book Samples: Download and read first chapters for free before you decide to buy

Large Selection: Over 350,000 books, including 104 of 112 New York Times® Best Sellers, plus U.S. and international newspapers, magazines, and blogs. For non-U.S. customers, content availability and pricing will vary.

Low Book Prices: New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are $9.99, unless marked otherwise. When traveling abroad, you can download books wirelessly from the Kindle Store or your Archived Items. U.S. customers will be charged a fee of $1.99 for international downloads.

Christmas is right around the corner!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Checking In With Carly.

Carly update.

I discovered Carly back in April of this year. (click here for a link to my blogpost.) She had joined twitter and started following my tweets. She really has an amazing and inspiring story. John Stossel and John McKenzie recently did a story on her progress for ABC's 20/20. I thought it was interesting that Carly has so much to say, but is still shy about typing around new people. It was also insightful that her father had to apologize somewhat for having talked around Carly as if she did not understand before she started typing and demonstrated that she has a keenly observant intellect. Enjoy her story. We can really learn from her insights, although I think that she is the exception and not the rule for children with autism.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Side Notes: Obamacare

I would like to comment on the health care debate that is currently raging in Congress and America in general. Not only does this affect all of us, but it will also have implications for music therapy treatment options and reimbursement issues. With this in mind, our music therapy seminar class has considered the subject over the last several weeks in order to try and grasp the main ideas of the current plans being bandied around the legislature.

This propaganda poster is actually right on the mark. Our class did a survey of health care systems in 10 countries around the world. I was assigned Japan, which has a very tightly regulated government run health care program. Every country we looked at also had some type of government run health care. In each case, our investigation found that longer wait times were one of the major complaints in these other systems. Interestingly, the longer wait times only resulted in shorter times with the physician. Since the government controls how much the doctors can charge for patient visits, the only way to make up the lost revenue is to see more patients per hour/day.

Our class actually had a very civil and productive discussion about the plan President Obama has put forth. There were arguments for and against, but we did not have a shouting match or anything so heated like the demonstrations shown on TV. It seemed that as a group of regular folks just trying to solve some problems with our health care system, we were able to rationally discuss the situation. Of course, we did not have to worry about being elected or pleasing certain interest groups.

I found it interesting that we could not find the details about the current situation of the health care legislation. We found the plan that Obama outlined, but the plan being considered in the finance committee does not look very much like the original Obama plan anymore. Senator Baucus has changed so much, including taking out the public option and not promising to cover all people, that no one really knows exactly what they are trying to accomplish. All of this information was found through third hand sources since the senators have been conducting all the discussions in secret. They have not even promised to post the final legislation for all to see on the internet before a vote.

Our class acknowledged that there are problems with the system in the U.S. Obviously the increase in cost every year is out of control and the U. S. government spends much more on health care than most other modern countries and provides less in services overall. We agreed that America excels in critical and acute care as well as having top of the line doctors and equipment. Other countries seem to have problems with quality control and customer service since the government control is not responsive to consumer driven sentiment. Some of the countries have successfully contained dramatic cost increases by regulating drug prices and drug companies and providing more coverage for preventative care. Unfortunately for the U. S., our population is much more diverse with many poor dietary and cultural habits that increase the health costs across the board. We do not have the benefit of a very homogeneous society like Japan. As the rest of the world becomes more metropolitan, many of America's health care problems are seeping into the systems of the socialist democracies and causing them to limit benefits or increase taxes.

After much discussion, our class decided to pretend like we were the Senate Finance Committee and hold a vote to see if the current Baucus bill should be voted out of committee to the full senate. I was surprised that the bill did not even receive one vote! The most liberal thinking class members were too upset that there was not a public option in the bill and the more conservative people were very concerned that there was so much deception about costs and increased taxes. Of course, since our class met, the bill has been passed out of the Finance committee in the real senate.

In my opinion, the entire Baucus bill seems to be a horrible injustice to taxpayers. The bill was only passed out of the committee by plain bribery on the part of Senator Baucus. People may call it bargaining, but when certain key states like Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Michigan are exempted from paying for some of the costs listed in the bill because they have Democrat senators, it is obvious what is going on. Seventeen other mostly Democrat controlled states also received special deals to limit the state's costs in the health care plan. Either every state should have an equal burden or the bill should not be passed. I think that the current plan is just a money grab from some people like the drug companies and medical device makers and reapportionment of the money to interest groups lucky enough to have their names mentioned. The last time I looked, music therapy was not on the list of the blessed! (Not that it should be.)

If you are going to change the health care system, then change it. The bills before congress right now mostly tinker around the edges and just play favoritism to one group or another. Since Democrats are in power, they should be honest and admit that it is probably over 90% of their interest groups that are getting the benefits. The options for health care will not increase as a result of congress passing any of the bills in the pipeline. There is not a bill offering a single-payer government run program and there is also next to zero proposal for any kind of market driven reform of health care since the conservative viewpoint has been locked out of any negotiations. Americans should not just throw their hands up in the air and say any reform is good. A vote for change does not abrogate our responsibility for due diligence in developing good ideas that make a difference!

To be honest, our class was very disheartened. In our examination of the details of the health plans and the process it is going through we found that the entire mess in Washington is so far removed from how regular people seem to think and act that we were at a loss for suggestions to improve the health care plan. We are even more concerned because we spent weeks looking at the issue to the best of our ability by looking for unbiased information and could not see how the current health plans will be successful in fixing anything. This Halloween, the scary thing is that most people will spend only a few minutes thinking about this subject while at the same time being informed by extremely partisan voices. Is this really in the best interest of our wonderful society and country? At the moment it does not look like anyone will be able to stop the legislators in Washington from messing things up once again although I am convinced that a much larger percentage than is reflected in the polls would oppose any legislation in its current state.

Washington D. C. - Where nothing makes sense and the keys to knowledge have been lost forever!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autism on the Rise?

The October 5, 2009 issue of Pediatrics included a new report about the prevalence of autism. The study's findings were based on data obtained from a survey given to parents in 2007. The survey asked parents if their child had ever been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and still had the disorder. Researchers discovered that the prevalence of children with ASD was 1 in 91 children. This number is much higher than previous estimates by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network that found the prevalence of ASD to be 1 in 150 children.

How can we make sense of the large increase in numbers? Caution is advised since there has been a great deal of recent publicity about ASD as well as growing public awareness. This may have impacted the identification of more cases of ASD that otherwise would have been missed. Screening of younger children has increased and doctors are much more willing to make a diagnosis of ASD for children at an early ages.

Many education professionals are of the opinion that there has been an increase in the number of children with autism. Sometimes these educators and therapists have a skewed view because they may be in a school district that works very well with families who have children with special needs. Consequently, parents tend to flock to these school districts with good reputations and artificially raise the relative number of children with ASD.

Hopefully, more research studies will be put forth trying to figure out the true nature of our challenge with ASD. It is definitely a situation we would all like to have make more sense!

Click here for the abstract.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In the News: Music Therapy and Preemies

Jury still out on music's benefits for preemies | Health | Reuters

A group of Canadian doctors at the University of Alberta recently took it upon themselves to do a review of recent research regarding music therapy and premature infants. The article in Reuters caught my eye because of its negative connotation toward using music therapy with preemies. My interest is further heightened because the head of the music therapy department at Florida State University is Dr. Jayne Standley, one of the leading researchers in the field about using music to benefit premature infants.

The doctors in Canada do not seem to have a problem with using music to aid premature babies, but they cite a lack of strong evidence to support some of the positive findings that have been published so far. They specifically said that there is some "preliminary" evidence that specially designed music intervention might be beneficial to these babies in certain circumstances. I think that the researchers were much more positive in their remarks and conclusions than the Reuter's author led us to believe by the headline, "The Jury is Still Out...".

The abstract for the research review in the Archives for Disease in Childhood can be found here. The Canadian doctors discovered that at least two research studies out of the nine they looked at were of good methodological design with large enough sample sizes to warrant merit. One of these studies was the research conducted by Dr. Standley here in Tallahassee using specially designed pacifiers that activate lullaby music for a defined period when a baby sucks. Dr. Standley found that the babies were significantly motivated to suck in order to activate the music and subsequently sucked better at feeding time after the pacifier intervention.

I think that the news article is probably an overall positive development for music therapy. There is obviously great public interest in music therapy and in using music to aid in health. The Canadian researchers seemed to advocate for more research with careful planning and better methodology. There is still much work to be done!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scary: Mill's Canons for Halloween!

The philosophical basis for good research is rooted in the theories of John Stuart Mill. Mill theorized a set of five methods of thinking that apply to cause and effect. His five canons can be a bit confusing at times so I wrote a story to illustrate them. I will provide the definitions and then underline the passages in the story that relate to each of the five canons. Can you decide which ones go together?

1. Mill's Method of Agreement: Proposes that if the circumstances leading up to a given event have in every case only one common factor.

2. Mill's Method of Differences: Proposes that if two or more sets of circumstances are alike in every respect except for one factor and if a given result occurs only when that factor is present, the factor in question probably is the cause of that result.

3. The Joint Method: Combines the above two methods. First, the one factor common to the occurrence is found (Method of Agreement), and second the factor is withdrawn to determine if the phenomenon occurs only when the factor is present.

4. Method of Residues: Assesses causes by the process of elimination. This method proposes that when the specific factors causing certain parts of a given phenomenon are known, the remaining parts of the phenomenon must be caused by the remaining factors.

5. Method of Concomitant Variations: Proposes, in effect, that when two things consistently change or vary together, either the variations in one are caused by the variations in the other, or both are being affected by some common cause.

Hi, my name is Darby. I am almost five years old and this year I get to go to seven Halloween parties! I have picked out two costumes that I like, a princess dress and an angel costume. (Mommy says I can only wear the angel costume on days that I am a good girl.) I am so excited! I looooove Halloween!

I just got home from the first party as a princess and am covered in all kinds of funny looking spots. Mama says that I have a rash. Sounds scary! Maybe I can sneak up on daddy and say, “Boo!” I also brought home some M&Ms and my favorite orange pumpkin candy. They are so yummy!

The second party was really fun too! I went as an angel because I had been such a good girl by helping mommy clean out the pumpkin to make a Jack-o-Lantern. My hands got really sticky! Mommy says that my hands somehow get stickier every time I eat M&Ms too. I ate a lot of M&Ms at the second party, but I was sad that I didn’t get any pumpkin candies. I brought home some more spots all over my face and tummy and Mommy said that the only thing I did on both nights was to eat M&Ms. That must have caused my funny spots!

Mommy told me not to eat any M&Ms at the next two parties, but I secretly ate some at the third party. I also got to eat my favorite pumpkin candies at both parties and was so happy that I didn’t get anything on my princess costume. Sure enough, I had those silly spots at the third party, but not the next day after the fourth party. When mommy found out that I had eaten M&Ms at the third party she declared that the M&Ms must have caused the rash since everything else was the same for both parties.

Mommy was very worried about all these spots so she didn’t let me eat anymore M&Ms at the next three parties. I had to wear my princess costume to all three since I had not been a good girl when I secretly ate the M&Ms. Mommy told me that I should eat the pumpkin candies after only two of the parties and she would then check me for spots.

Luckily, I did not get more of that rash thing after the last three parties. It was itchy! Mommy said Halloween this year was mysterious. She is a smart mommy! She figured out that M&Ms cause me to have spots and that letting me help her with the pumpkin really made my hands sticky! The one thing she couldn’t understand was why I ran to the bathroom as soon as I got in the house after every party. I wonder what mommy would say if I told her that I was able to drink five glasses of punch at every party! She would be so proud of me!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Side Notes: Symbolic Communication and Special Needs Children

I am currently taking a music philosophy and research class where we are discussing language as it relates to research methods. The question was asked: Are vocabulary, grammar, signs, or symbols important for communication? Can communication exist if the sender transmits in one symbolic form and the receiver is not familiar with the form? How would you answer the question? My initial thoughts on the matter are as follows:

I think that vocabulary, signs and gestures are very important in visual and aural communication. I think grammar may be slightly less important based on my experience with speaking other languages. When I was in
Russia, for example, my grammar was often quite poor, but the native speakers usually did not have a problem filling in the meaning of what I was trying to say. They frequently corrected my grammar to help me learn, but I never insulted anyone or got into an argument by accidentally saying something wrong!

Vocabulary, signs and gestures are very important to communication as evidenced by the lack of meaningful communication with kids with disabilities, especially autism and Down Syndrome. I often wonder if children with autism are distracted by the word, picture of the word, gesture or paired object and therefore do not attach the sender's intended meaning to the word. For example, if we are trying to teach the labeling of objects, the child with autism might be too distracted by the details on a toy car and completely miss the association with the word, “car.” He may only want to hold the car, but may scream or hit himself and not even reach out for the car in a gesture to communicate his wants. In this example the two communicators are operating in very different realms of communication and may just as well be speaking Chinese and Spanish to each other. Communication will be very difficult without a common agreement on vocabulary, signs and gestures.

Sometimes we may overcome differences in vocabulary if there is an underlying commonality. My daughter is learning French at home since my wife exclusively communicates with her in French. Sometimes I think my daughter understands instructions in French better than in English! I think in some ways, however, she is able to respond to communication in either language based on vocal inflections and gesture to compensate for her lack of vocabulary in one language or the other.

I think that if communication is the goal, then it should be approached globally by engaging a communication partner in as many different modes of communication as possible. This is particularly true when working with children with disabilities. Hopefully, they will be able to understand the communication on some level when provided with multiple avenues to listen and respond. The ramifications for this conclusion might point to the use of multiple forms of instruction for any given material. When I conduct music therapy groups I often provide visual, spoken, sung and gesture cues for most instructions. I am often most interested in the my message being understood rather than how it is understood. I have observed that most teachers are naturals at communicating with multiple modalities, but it is good to examine our method of delivery every now and then.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book Review: Tataku: The Use of Percussion in Music Therapy

Wow! This is really a terrific book! Bill Matney actually used to work for Music Therapy Services of Texas when I was Director of Client Services several years ago. We were pleased to have him as one of our therapists, primarily serving clients in the public schools. He continued in his career by taking a position with Lewisville Independent School District and also lecturing at Texas Womens University.

Mr. Matney's book is a wonderful compilation of many of the different applications of drumming that have been used in therapy settings. Bill is a trained percussionist and I can attest to his professional ability as a drummer. In this book, he has synthesized theory and practice from the leaders in drum circle facilitation and drumming and wellness like Kalani and Christine Stevens. This book can serve as a handbook and manual for music therapists and teachers in implementing much more effective use of drumming in the classroom. Matney's discussion of drum circle facilitation along with his nice illustrations and picture examples provide an excellent reference source that is easy to use.

Before this book, much of the literature was either about drumming instruction or intended for specific types of therapeutic drumming. Christine Steven's, Healing Drum Kit, was groundbreaking in its way of teaching some simple drum techniques, but also promoting drumming for relaxation and wellness. Mr. Matney has now provided us with a much more comprehensive manual for learning to play many different types of percussion instruments from around the world. He has provided traditional rhythmic patterns that can be used for each instrument and ideas for group activities. In each case he has also provided links to therapeutic goals and adaptations for people with disabilities or people using drumming to address wellness and psychological objectives. The final chapters provide a thorough and easy to follow description about facilitating drum circles.

The bottom line: This book makes sense for the music therapist who wants to use drumming in a variety of settings. The teacher in special education could also use this book to provide ideas for group drumming in the classroom. The music education teacher could use many of the more advanced ideas for regular education group activities and information for teaching multicultural ideas.

The book at Amazon:
Tataku: The Use of Percussion in Music Therapy

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