For years, we’ve known that listening to music has benefits for children’s development. CD series like those from Baby Einstein have become extremely popular with parents of babies because experts have recognized that listening to classical music is not only engaging to very young children but actually increases their brain’s ability to perform spatial reasoning.
When a baby is born, he has billions of brain cells. As the baby develops, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells. When babies listen to music, especially classical music, they make strong music related connections in the brain. Over time, continued listening to classical music actually changes the way the child’s mind works by creating brain pathways that would not have been there otherwise. Listening to music does not increase IQ, per se, but can make the mind perform many important tasks more easily and with greater skill.
Listening to music has been shown to prime our brains for spatial tasks, like putting together puzzles. Even adults who did not listen to music regularly as a child can experience a short term burst in spatial capabilities after listening to music.
Why Classical Music?
Classical music has been shown to have the most impact on creating brain connections in children because of the complexity of the music. Classical music has a very complex musical structure. Studies have shown that babies as young as three months old can detect the special structures in works such as those of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, and can recognize music they’ve heard before.
It is this complexity that leads researchers to believe that classical music is the best music for building these pathways in the brain. However, all music is good for the brain. Research has also shown that children who have early and frequent exposure to music are better at math, emphasizing the relationship between pathways built by listening to music and the brain’s function.
Special Benefits to Children with Special Needs
We’re fully aware of music’s benefits to all children. But, researchers are becoming more and more aware of potential additional benefits to children with learning disorders like Down’s syndrome, Autism and other learning disabilities.
Children with Autism
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects socialization and communication. It is a spectrum disorder that affects roughly 0.6 percent of the population, occurring four times more often in males.
There has long been a connection between autism and music. Autistic children, though deficient in language, are generally able to process music as well as children their age who do not suffer from a learning disability. This often makes music of special interest to autistic children, and there have been many case studies regarding autistic children who are musical savants.
In very practical terms, many parents of autistic children have found that listening to classical music can calm and soothe their children during bouts of acting out. Like repetitive motions, such as swinging and rocking, music can sometimes also be used to prevent outbursts by helping children to calm in advance of a potentially stressful situation. Classical music has been shown to actually calm the nervous system.
Children with Down Syndrome
One of the most important therapies for Down syndrome children is auditory therapy. Down syndrome children have great difficulty in auditory vocal processing. They have trouble learning to coordinate the movements of the lips and tongue that are required for speech. In addition, they are highly prone to ear infections, which often lead to hearing loss. When children suffer hearing loss, it further impacts their ability to speak.
Music is a key element of the auditory therapy needed by Down syndrome children. Most music therapists use classical music in auditory therapy because of how it stimulates the brain and calms the nervous system at the same time. In addition to how classical music can help improve cognitive function, it helps improve auditory function, which is of special concern to these children. Children with Down syndrome can actually improve their ability to respond to the full range of sound frequencies through sound therapy using classical music.
Other Learning Disabilities
There are studies to indicate that classical music provides benefit to all children because of its ability to create pathways in the brain, stimulate the brain and calm the nervous system. These features are particularly important to children with any sort of learning disability. Improved ability to focus, concentrate and remain calm are positive affects for children with hyperactivity disorders, Asperger’s syndrome and ADD. In addition, the stimulation of the brain and creation of new pathways may help these children to improve their ability to perform certain tasks, especially spatially related tasks.
Music holds a special place in the lives of many people. Most of us have specific songs that trigger responses and memories each time we hear them. So, it’s no surprise that music has a profound effect on our minds. We also now know that these effects can be used to improve our minds and our cognitive abilities, especially in children with learning disabilities.