Music Therapy Assessment for Children with Developmental Disabilities: A Survey Study

By Chase, Kristen Mei | Journal of Music Therapy, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Music Therapy Assessment for Children with Developmental Disabilities: A Survey Study


Chase, Kristen Mei, Journal of Music Therapy


The purpose of this study was to survey music therapists working with children with developmental disabilities to examine and describe the following: (a) the major skill areas and subcategories most frequently assessed, (b) how these areas are assessed, (c) the common features of their current assessment tools, (d) the positive and/or negative aspects of their current assessment tools, and (e) the 3 most important features desired in a standardized music therapy assessment for use in their clinical practice. Of the 207 respondents who expressed interest in completing a music therapy assessment survey in a pilot study, 108 surveys were returned for a 52% return rate; 95 (46%) were used as data for this study. The respondents most frequently assessed the following major skill areas: Motor (95%), Communication (83%), Social (79%), Cognitive (64%), and Music (35%). Of the 34 (36%) respondents who enclosed an actual assessment form with their survey, 100% require data collection through behavior observation. Respondents most frequently noted the following positive aspects of their forms: Thorough (34%), Individualized (26%), and Easy to Use (26%), and the following negative aspects of their forms: Subjective (28%), Limiting (26%), and Time Consuming (22%). The 3 most commonly desired features of a standardized assessment were the following: Easy to Use (23%), Comprehensive (19%), and Adaptable (13%).

The music therapy profession lacks formal assessment tools (Isenberg-Grzeda, 1988; Jones, 1986; Lipe, 1991; Maranto, 1991; Wilson & Smith, 2000; York, 1994). As a result, many music therapists utilize informal tools that may affect the credibility of the profession, accountability to clients and their families, and justifiability of services (Chase, 2002). Because music therapists work in a wide variety of clinical settings with clients and patients with diverse needs, assessments in the profession vary greatly. Some authors have suggested the development of assessment instruments for specific diagnostic areas (York, 1994). Due to the lack of population-specific music therapy assessment tools, music therapists often have little choice but to use a tool that may be unfamiliar to them or unsuitable to their population. Some of these tools are outdated and require extensive adaptations and adjustments that often require too much time of the busy music therapy professional.

In the specific population of the developmental disabilities (DD), music therapy assessment research is scarce (Wilson & Smith, 2000). Several clinician-designed assessment tools arid processes exist (Boxill, 1985; Brunk & Coleman, 2000; Hintz, 2000; Scalenghe £ Murphy, 2000; Wigram, 2000), but almost none have been the subject of scholarly research. Even more scarce are formal music therapy assessment tools for children with DD (Wilson & Smith, 2000). Many of the articles, including the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) Standards of Clinical Practice (2002), provide the therapist only with suggested assessment areas, leaving the therapist to create an assessment form and compose music tasks to evaluate the skill areas. With about 12% of music therapists working with clients with DD (AMTA, 2002), more resources for that population and possibly even a standardized assessment form should be accessible.

The number of music therapists working with students with DD in school settings is growing (Chester, Holmberg, Lawrence, & Thurmond, 1999; Smith & Hairston, 1999; Wilson & Smith, 2000). With the official confirmation of music therapy as a related service for Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) (Warlick, 2000) and the increased requests to insurance companies for reimbursement for music therapy services, a standardized assessment for children with DD would help to increase professional integrity, potential referrals, and reimbursement. Grant (1995, in Wilson & Smith, 2000) states that while "there has been a lack of unanimity within the music therapy profession concerning the need for standardization, there is now greater impetus to proceed in this area" (p. …

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