Music Therapy and More at Eagles' Wings in China

Posted by Cherry Yuan on August 3, 2013 at 12:30 AM

I first learned about music therapy from Kim Bennett, a child speech specialist. She shared her experience of visiting Eagles’ Wings Orphanage in Jiao Zuo, China, last December, even showing me a video clip. In the video was a girl named Li Zhu who sat on the ground, her upper body so hunched that her head almost touched the floor. Ever since she was sent to Eagle’s Wings, which provides shelter for children with special needs, Li Zhu would not respond to anyone. However, Kim was able to use music and candy as encouragement to try and connect with Li Zhu. Gradually, Li Zhu responded and slowly sat up straight. After my many years of music training, this was the first time I had witnessed the true power of music.

When Kim told me she was going to bring a team of child specialists to Eagle’s Wings in July, I eagerly volunteered to join them. The minute we stepped into the facility, Li Zhu was the one came to greet us. She even held my hand. I could not believe this was the same girl I had seen in the video. Kim explained to me that in China, if children with special needs are not adopted by a certain age, they will be sent to government-run institutions for the rest of their lives. Therefore, Kim and her team are working to improve the conditions in which these children are raised so that they will appeal to more potential parents and get adopted in the future.

For the first two days of my visit to Eagles’ Wings, the BEACON team from the US, in which I was a part of, spoke with the local staff, as Kim believed that training the staff to be better equipped to take care of children with special needs is an essential component of her goal. I helped as much as I could by translating the team’s words into Chinese. During this time, I learned that music can help connect the two hemispheres of the brain, improving word retrieval in language, communication and developmental skills, which is important for school readiness. I also learned that when a person sings a song, he or she uses the whole brain to control and process information. Therefore, it is important to teach special needs kids to sing songs that could help improve their brains’ controllability.

For the last three days, we worked with kids directly. In the mornings, we separated the children into two groups; the lower skilled group and the advanced one. We would spend an hour and half performing music therapy with each group. The first group we worked with was the lower skilled one. All the kids in this group must be with their nurses because most of them can’t walk, stand, or even sit up by their own. The team’s music therapist, Angela, would sing a song and show pictures related to the lyrics. At first, the children barely sang back due to their shyness, but after the 2nd and 3rd time, the whole room filled with singing. I noticed there was one blind girl lying on the ground and who was quiet most of the time. But when we played the harp music, she immediately raised her hands and moved her fingers along with the music as if she was playing the harp! For the advanced group, we noticed most kids have developmental skills so we asked their nurses not to “babysit” them but to just sit behind them and let them communicate with us on their own.

Following the group music therapy, we would work with each child individually. We tried to teach the kids some basic skills such as naming the food, saying greetings and using sign language. The key to keep the kids concentrated and connecting with us is to find something that really motivates them. For example, there was a little boy that Kim worked with who loved bananas. Therefore, we used bananas as a reward for him. Every time when Kim taught him something, he would master it very fast because he always wanted a piece of banana.

After a whole week of learning and helping, I discovered that faith and love are most important to me. If we believe in these special needs children and treat them with love, they will connect and respond to the outside world in ways they previously would not have been able to do. Often times, it requires some patience and understanding, but in the end, it is always worth it. Each child is unique and needs his or her own time to develop and grow. Music therapy plays an important role in helping these children to feel and express themselves. I am thankful for this opportunity of participating in the training and teaching the special needs children. I hope they are able to benefit from this and live better lives afterwards.

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Categories: Music Therapy, Volunteer Work

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