How to pick out the best music for your special needs child

When it comes to using music at home or in therapy sessions, many parents and therapists may be overwhelmed by the amount of choices available. Even as a music therapist with specialized training, I admit that the seemingly infinite options can have me stuck when looking for the “best” music for a client. There are a few questions that I like to ask myself when selecting songs for my kiddos. This helps me move past making the decision making process and simply start making music!

Does my child like this song?

Music therapists rely heavily on patient preference when selecting songs for treatment, regardless of client age or diagnosis. Preferred music seems to be most effective in connecting with a client, especially in terms of holding attention and reinforcement for completing less preferred tasks.

It’s important to remember that when you introduce a new song, your child may or may not like it right away. There will be music that is his absolute favorite. There will be music that grows on her. There will be music that she hates. I feel the exact same way about music – some I like, some I love, some I hate, some I’ve grown to love.

Using your instincts you can decide – “hey let’s keep on trying to sing this song” or “nope, not gonna work this time. Pick again.”

Is this song age appropriate?

This is a tough one. Honestly, I go back and forth on this. There is a great deal of emphasis in the music therapy community about using age appropriate music for our clients. For example, I would probably not sing “Twinkle Little Star” or “Old MacDonald” with a 16 year old. Instead I would introduce more age related (yet lyric safe) songs such as “Firework” by Katy Perry or “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I have also been known to use oldies or traditional songs with older kids. Think “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or “Yellow Submarine.”

Here’s where I waiver a bit – what if “Old MacDonald” is one of the only songs to which your child connects? I once had a middle school client who lost interest every time I introduced more age appropriate song material. This was because developmentally she was still in the 12-18 month range. Of course she still loved those nursery rhyme songs! So what did I do? We compromised and eventually came up with a system of “my turn, your turn.” It took time, but we were able to go back and forth between songs I selected for her therapy sessions and her beloved children’s favorites.

Is the song repetitive?

Children learn through repetition! Using catchy, simple tunes that repeat over and over again is a safe bet when it comes to retaining beginning to fill in missing lyrics. You may tire of the song WAY before your child does. But it’s worth it to see them happy and engaged! Fix

Does this song address the skill I want to work on?

Whether you want to work on potty training or learning the color red, select a song to meet your criteria based on its lyric content. If I want to teach my child to dance I move, I might search “kids movement songs.” I am immediately returned with lots of to preview!

Where to start:

Google – my best friend in the process. Yes, as a music therapist, I do already know tons of songs for various goals and objectives. However, learning music for clients based on their specific needs is a never ending process. I am constantly learning and adapting new music all the time. So unless I write an original composition (which happens frequently!), I check to see what’s already out there. No need to reinvent the wheel, right? Search “kids color song” or “kids potty training songs.” You will be amazed at what comes up!

Here are a couple resources to get you started:

Collections of children’s music free –

Music Therapy Kids blog and store

Barefoot books youtube channel

A note about choosing.

Don’t get hung up on choosing the “best” song or the “right” song. There are no wrongs and rights. You will never know how it’s going to go until you try, try, try. If it doesn’t work out, either try again next time or pick something else. The whole thing is a process that will change over time. The very act of engaging in music will speak volumes to your child(ren) and help you connect to them in special way!

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