In 2012, Chileda received a unique application; after all, it isn’t every day that someone applies for a position that doesn’t exist. The application came from Chelsea Steen, who proposed that Chileda add a Music Therapy program and that she re-establish it after years of absence.  The idea was met with open arms.

Chelsea majored in Music Therapy because of a long love of playing music and an interest in psychology that developed in high school.  While participating in practicums at Wartburg College, she experienced first hand the power of music on peoples’ lives.  Chelsea knew then that Music Therapy was what she wanted to pursue for her career.

What inspired Chelsea to bring Music Therapy to Chileda?

The college practicums that Chelsea found most rewarding were those involving children with autism, or children in treatment centers for emotional and behavioral challenges.  After graduation, Chelsea ran in to her former elementary school teacher whose daughter happened to teach at Chileda.  This led to a proposal for a Music Therapy program at Chileda.  Chelsea began her Chileda career by working as a Direct Support Professional to give her experience with the residential students.  In 2013, Music Therapy was introduced to the Residential Programming students and expanded in 2015 to include the Education department so that all students, Residential and Day School, could receive these services.

The Power of Music

Music is a unique human art form that activates a person’s entire brain when they actively engage in singing, playing an instrument, or moving rhythmically along with a song. Because of this, music can stimulate learning, evoke memories, and connect with emotions in a way that students can experience in the moment.

Purposeful music therapy interventions can help kids develop more appropriate:

  • Social Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Executive Function Skills
  • Sensori-Motor Skills
  • Emotion Regulation Skills

A closer look at ways Music Therapy helps students at Chileda:

  • Children can practice making requests (verbal or picture) for instruments because they see something they really want to try. 
  • Through group instrument play experiences, students can use social skills of waiting for a peer, or play an instrument together.
  • In songwriting or improvised play on instruments, kids can work on back and forth exchanges and use nonverbal communication to interact with another person.
  • The act of singing is in itself a controlled breathing exercise. Singing with a slow, gentle rhythm can help students slow their heart rate and breathing to a calmer state.
  • Repeated phrases and patterns in music provide an expected structure that allows a student to have a predictable environment in which their brain can understand they are safe.
  • Music can also energize, through fast rhythms and dancing. By alternating between a fast drumming activity to singing a slow, relaxing song, our students can practice what it feels like to control their bodies when they are either energetic or upset.

Musical Moments to Remember

The best moments for Chelsea are when students learn to use music for themselves in purposeful ways. Examples of this include when they tell her they took out the house guitar and practiced their song, did a music mindfulness experience to help them calm, or made up a new musical game with the keyboard in the house. A few students over the years have become songwriters, and each week would bring Chelsea the new lyrics they wrote.  They asked her to add music to them and record it to share with others. One student would even have a melody in her head and said “play this”, (singing it to her), “when I sing this part of the song.” Watching student independence grow to a point where they no longer need help to create music is an amazing thing for Chelsea.

What Chelsea loves most about her job

“I love seeing the students’ response to music. When they can express themselves through a song either by writing their own, playing instruments in a communicative way, or by sharing the lyrics of a song they choose, it is very powerful. The two parts of my job that always just make me so happy are seeing the creativity of each individual, and being able to interact with them through music.”

Learn more about Music Therapy here:

A recent report was published recognizing Music Therapy as Evidence-Based Practice for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Check out ther report here: Report 2020.pdf