Music and exercise – Importance of rhythm and beat for children with CP and neuro-motor issues.

RhythmMy son with CP loves crowds and was always up for going to a school dance as he was growing up.  He now listens to music and does an amazing job editing music into his video productions.  He doesn’t sing, or keep the beat of music.  He has trouble doing slow rhythmic movements when weight training and has trouble with timing his movements in general.  The connection between his motor limitations and these rhythm skills is clear.

This article that Anat Baniel has highlighted about workout music and the action of the supplementary motor cortex in movement timing gives me ideas about the potential to help children with motor issues using beat and rhythm.  All young children’s classrooms encourage music and clapping but it seems like more is better when there are motor challenges.  This is an area that is worth pursuing even when it is not easily evoked.

Tom Stafford says: The benefits of music are largest for self-paced exercise – in other words those sports where some of the work involved is in deciding when to act, as well as how to act. This means all paced exercises, like rowing or running, rather than un-paced exercises like judo or football. My speculation is that music helps us perform by taking over a vital piece of the task of moving, the rhythm travels in through our ears and down our auditory pathways to the supplementary motor area……The signals to move the muscles start in an area of the brain called, unsurprisingly, the motor cortex. It’s in the middle near the top. Part of this motor area is known as the supplementary motor cortex. Originally thought to be involved in more complex movements, this area has since been shown to be particularly active at the point we’re planning to make a movement, and especially crucial for the timing of these actions. So, this specific part of the brain does a very important job during exercise, it is responsible for deciding exactly when to act. 

In this Psychology Today article Henkjan Honing, Ph.D, a Professor in Music Cognition at the University of Amsterdam, studied “a cognitive skill called beat induction, which most of us think of as trivial (e.g., being able to tap your foot to the beat), is active so early in life. It can be seen as additional support for the idea that, beat perception contributed to the origins of music since it enabling such actions as clapping, making music together and dancing to a rhythm. Next to being music-specific, beat induction is also considered to be uniquely human.”

He was able to conduct tests in two day old babies which showed this skill was acquired before birth.

Furthermore, the results challenge some earlier assumptions that beat induction is learned in the first few months of life, for example by parents rocking the infant. Our study suggests that beat perception must be either innate or learned in the womb — as the auditory system is at least partly functional as of approximately three month before birth.

When you consider that birth trauma and/or hypoxia is often the cause of CP you realize that most children with CP had a pre-birth opportunity to have this auditory experience.  Perhaps this recognition of beat is something that can be brought forward through early experience?

I have been introduced to TaKeTiNa by fellow practitioner Heidi Lawson and had conversations with her about the impact of rhythm on the brain and motor skills.  Taketina is a rhythm development program.  Masters in rhythm can maintain many rhythms with different parts of themselves simultaneously.  They use shifting weight, hands, feet, vocalizations etc to produce the rhythms.  It is usually practiced by adults who do not have motor limitations, but the research that has been done with this group shows the impact a rhythm practice on the EKG – more evidence of the correlation between beat, rhythm and our brains.  Learning basic rhythm and beat will make a difference for our children.

Tapping and rhythm are sometimes used as a tool in ABM lessons but the focus of lessons can be in so many areas of neuromovement learning that lessons are not an ideal place to create this experience for children. Perhaps your practitioner can help with the action of tapping, patting, etc and introduce the idea of rhythm, but fun opportunities and encouragement to practice will be essential.  Knowing about the potential benefits of rhythm, beat, and music for the functioning of the supplemental motor cortex, and motor timing seems like a wonderful opportunity for parents and teachers to emphasize this in their interactions with children with motor challenges.

Consider all these places you encounter rhythm and beat during your day: music, marching, counting, walking, crawling, songs, rhymes, swinging, bouncing, your heartbeat, horseback riding.  You can find beat and rhythm in many places.  Make it important and noticeable.  Think of “marking” it for your child.  You can tap your child along to the music, vocalize to the song, noise, or movement.  What you notice and participate in your child will take note of.  

Here’s a google search for “creating rhythm in special needs children” which may give you  more ideas!