Pamela Ott has over 20 years experience using Music Therapy in the treatment of individuals with developmental disabilities, and has released nine albums of music for use with children with special needs.

Here, Pamela answers some questions about her new book, Music for Special Kids: Musical Activities, Songs, Instruments and Resources.

Tell us about your background – why did you decide to become a music therapist? How did the book come about?

I’ve had an interest in music since taking piano lessons at age 10 which continued into high school. I was interested in pursuing music in college, but also wanted to go into a field such as psychology or speech therapy in which I could help others. My choir teacher in high school encouraged me to look into the field of Music Therapy – one which he felt could combine both interests. Upon learning more about Music Therapy and visiting the program at Colorado State University I was hooked! I graduated from there and fulfilled my internship at Travis State School in Austin, Texas. Over the next 25 years I worked mainly with individuals with developmental disabilities (DD); autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, SPD, etc., in private practice, clinics and finally as the Director of Music Therapy for United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Arizona (UCPSA).

In 2009, due to an extreme budget shortfall, the state of Arizona made major cuts to the funding of Music Therapy for children with DD and UCP had to end the Music Therapy program which at that point was providing services to 125+ individuals a week. Many of the parents of our clients felt stranded and asked for any suggestions I could give to at least continue providing music through activities at home.

In response, I began a blog – – giving simple musical ideas and suggestions for parents and teachers to use with their children in a learning setting. The response to the blog has been so overwhelming that I began to write a book with many of the musical activities I had used over the years which will now be published by JKP as Music for Special Kids: Music Activities, Songs, Instruments and Resources.

Music Therapists are trained during a four year program at accredited universities to manipulate the elements of music (such as rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics and timbre) to bring about a change in identified goal areas, so using these activities, songs and resources does not equip an individual to provide music therapy, just as providing language activities does not equip a person to provide speech therapy.

That being said though, music has been widely used in educational settings, preschools and at home to augment a learning process (especially by increasing the retention of material presented), provide outlets for self-expression and encourage socialization – an example being the ABC song, through which many of us first learned the alphabet! My hope in writing this book is to encourage more parents, teachers and caregivers to use more music with their children as a way to connect and encourage learning.

What is it about music that makes it particularly effective with children with special needs?

Music is a medium that can be non-threatening, encourage participation, encourage attending skills, and encourage stimulation or relaxation. Because of these outcomes and more, music can be used to reach a child that may be hesitant to respond to other forms of communication.

One of my favorite moments occurred while working with a little four year old with autism who was essentially non-verbal. Even though she didn’t show it, I could tell by her attending level that she enjoyed coming to music. After working with her for several weeks, I used one of the song omission activities I’ve listed in the book. At the end of a song that was very familiar to her, I purposely left out a word. She fidgeted and quickly touched my mouth as if to get me to finish the sentence. I sang the sentence again, leaving out the same word and after a moment of silence – she blurted out “O”. Her mom and I were absolutely amazed! The language was in there, she just needed a little encouragement to get it out!

Where did the songs, activities and games in the book come from? Are there certain kinds that work better for different needs?

The songs in the book were either written by me or are traditional children’s songs. The activities and games in the book are activities and games that I have created or augmented through my 25+ years of work with special needs children.

As with all children, all special needs children are different. Not all songs and activities will work equally as well with each child and some may be changed to fit each child’s needs. I have given ideas to modify some of the activities at the end of the activity.

What are some common challenges that parents and professionals face in implementing music? How can your book help?

The biggest challenge I hear in implementing music activities and songs with special needs children is when the adult or leader is not a musician and doesn’t feel confident singing or presenting musical activities. My hope is that the book will present these songs and activities in a manner that will encourage even non-musicians to give it a try. Children are not generally critical of a person’s voice or musical ability – they instead respond to a leader who is confident and having fun through the music!

Check out Pamela’s book to learn how you can use music to connect with a child with special needs! 

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

One thought

  1. Hi, I need to get my hands on this book as soon as possible. I teach special needs kids in Perth WA. Is it available in Perth?

    Bryce Manning

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