Can Music Therapy be a Part of a child’s IEP?


Then why is it that in some parts of the country, music therapy is provided as needed to every child.  And in other parts, it is refused? This article will make the law and process EASY to understand.

What is IDEA?

First if you don’t already, you need to clearly understand IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

It is split into several parts. Part A discusses general provisions while Part B relates directly to school age children (3-22 years of age). Part C relates to Early Intervention (0-3 years of age).

The purpose of IDEA is to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education to students with special needs (also referred to as FAPE).

Music Therapy is a Related Service

Your child may already receive some related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, transportation, or the school health services. Music therapy is considered a related service.

Here is an excerpt from IDEA regarding related services. It reads:

(a) General. Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

The key point in this paragraph is that related services are additional services that are deemed necessary by the IEP team for a child to benefit from special education.

You may have noted the music therapy was not specifically listed in the paragraph above.  That is where the disagreement arises.  You see, it’s up to each state to implement the rules and regulations of IDEA.  And when you have multiple people interpreting the law, it is inevitable that there will be multiple interpretations.Some school districts interpret this list as exhaustive.  The service isn’t listed? Sorry our school doesn’t provide it.

Luckily not everyone shares the same view.

Federal Register

When rules and regulations are first proposed, they are reviewed and people are given the opportunity to propose revisions. Hundreds if not thousands of individuals commented on Section 300.34 in regard to the fact that music, art, dance, therapy were not listed.

After reviewing these comments, the writers responded with the following statement:

A significant number of commenters recommending adding music, art, and dance therapy…Discussion: Seccion 300.34(a) and section 602(26  of the Act state that related services include other supportive services that are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education. We believe this clearly conveys that the list of services in Sec. 300.34 is not exhaustive and may include other developmental, corrective, or supportive services if they are required to assist a child with a disability from special education. It would be impractical to list every service that could be a related service, and therefore, no additional language will be added to the regulations.

Consistent with Sec 300.320 through 300.328, each child’s IEP Team, which includes the child’s parent along with school officials, determines the instruction and services that are needed for an individual child to receive FAPE. In all cases concerning related services, the IEP Team’s determination about appropriate services must be reflected in the child’s IEP, and those listed services must be provided in accordance with the IEP at public expense and at no cost to the parents. Nothing in the Act or in the definition of related services requires the provision of a related service to a child unless the child’s IEP Team has determined that the related service is required in order for the child to benefit from special education and has included that service in the child’s IEP 71 FR 46569, August 14,2006 (Download this Document)

You can see that they clearly felt that the list was not exhaustive, and it should not be interpreted that way.

IDEA Q&A Guide

Additionally many Q&A Guides to help clarify various parts of IDEA. The following was revised in September of 2011.

The writers were specifically asked “Can artistic and cultural services, such as music therapy, be considered related services under IDEA? If so, are there qualifications in the IDEA to provide such services are related services?

E.  Related Services

Authority:     The requirements for related services are found in 34 CFR §300.34.

Question E-1:    Can artistic and cultural services, such as music therapy, be considered related services under the IDEA?  If so, are there qualifications in the IDEA for personnel to provide such services as related services?

Answer:    Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.  Related services can include artistic and cultural services that are therapeutic in nature, regardless of whether the IDEA or the Part B regulations identify the particular therapeutic service as a related service.  The Department’s long-standing interpretation is that the list of related services in the IDEA and the Part B regulations is not exhaustive and may include other developmental, corrective, or supportive services (such as artistic and cultural programs, art, music, and dance therapy), if they are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education in order for the child to receive FAPE.  As is true regarding consideration of any related service for a child with a disability under Part B of the IDEA, the members of the child’s IEP Team (which include the parents, school officials, and whenever appropriate, the child with a disability) must make individual determinations in light of each child’s unique abilities and needs about whether an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy is required to assist the child to benefit from special education.

If a child’s IEP Team determines that an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy is an appropriate related service for the child with a disability, that related service must be included in the child’s IEP under the statement of special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child.  34 CFR §300.320(a)(4).  These services are to enable the child to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals, to be involved and make progress in the general education curriculum, and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities, and to be educated and participate with other children with and without disabilities in those activities.  34 CFR §300.320(a)(4)(i)-(iii).  If the child’s IEP specifies that an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy is a related service for the child, that related service must be provided at public expense and at no cost to the parents.  34 CFR §§300.101 and 300.17.

Regarding the question about personnel qualifications for providers when an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy is considered a related service, Part B of IDEA does not prescribe particular qualifications or credentials for personnel providing special education and related services.  Under 34 CFR §300.156(a), each SEA must establish and maintain qualifications to ensure that personnel necessary to carry out the purposes of Part B of the IDEA are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained.  This responsibility includes ensuring that the qualifications for related services personnel and paraprofessionals are consistent with any State-approved or State-recognized certification, licensing, registration, or other comparable requirements that apply to the professional discipline in which those personnel are providing special education or related services.  34 CFR §300.156(b)(1).  In addition, the SEA must ensure that related services personnel who deliver services in their discipline or profession meet applicable State qualification standards and have not had certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.  34 CFR §300.156(b)(2)(ii).  Therefore, if a child’s IEP includes an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy as a related service, the SEA would be responsible for ensuring that the child received that service from appropriately and adequately trained personnel, consistent with 34 CFR §300.156(b).

Get the full document here. You will need to scroll down to section E.

Note that it says “if the child’s IEP team determines that music therapy is an appropriate related service.” School districts or its employees can not just arbitrarily predetermine that they do not offer the service. If the team concludes the child needs the service, then it must be provided!

How does the process of adding music therapy as a related service work?

The process works much like that of any other related service evaluation process with the exception that if your school district does not have a music therapist on staff, they will have to seek one to conduct the evaluation (see how to find a music therapist in your area)

  • An IEP meeting is held
  • An evaluation is requested
  • An evaluation is conducted
  • An IEP meeting is held to discuss results and add service if necessary.

Sometimes this process can take a couple months. There is typically a timeline for completion (ex: 30 days, 60 days, etc) for the evaluation and then another timeline for holding the review meeting after the evaluation is complete.

What can you do with this information?

In my experience (though not all will agree with me), you “catch more flies with honey.”  That’s the way I would approach it in the beginning. Good-natured but firm. If that does not work, then by all means do what you need to do! I do believe that most schools have a good heart toward their students. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, decisions are sometimes made that not everyone agrees with.  On the flip side, some families may demand every service though it may actually not be needed. Having worked on both “sides,” I understand each perspective. Ultimately you are the parent, teacher, or therapist, and need to best meet the needs of the child!

So what can you do?

  • Educate yourself. Know the contents of IDEA. Check out for more information. Know your rights!
  • Nicely but firmly remind the team of key points in this article at the next IEP meeting when you are requesting music therapy evaluation. References for this article are provided throughout. Don’t just take my word for it.
  • Music therapy is researched based. Provide the team with accompanying research. Here is a fabulous summary of research supporting the use of music therapy with children on the Autism spectrum.  These bibliographies may also be of tremendous use.

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  1. Hi, We live in Apex NC and I have been advocating for music therapy for my 5 yr old son since February 2016. We will have yet another IEP meeting in a few weeks (Sept 26th) to discuss the MT assessment of which I had to pay for out of pocket because they refused. I feel my son has been done wrong for the last two years though the school system and I am ready to advocate some more. He has a very rare genetic abnormality and there’s a high risk of intellectual disability. He is having a problem learning and retaining new information and has difficulties expressing what he knows. I have contacted ECAC and Disabilities Rights of NC and other organizations who might be interested in our situation. I have also written our congressmen. I hope our next meeting goes well. I have learned so much and I am grateful for people who are knowledgeable and who care! My best advice is don’t give up. Keep looking for people who can help and in turn you will be helping your child and probably other children as a result!

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