Feature Archive

The Sound of Healing

Music as Medicine

WebMD Feature

Nov. 13, 2000 -- Sara Cowell was born 12 weeks early, and weighed just 2 1/2 pounds. Thought to have suffered from brain damage, as a baby she neither cried for her mother nor responded to the voices of others. And as she grew into a toddler she failed to learn to speak and was terrified of people she didn't know. By the time she was 3, doctors had diagnosed her as having significant developmental delay.

But while Sara (not her real name) had a lot of trouble with words, she loved to sing out sounds around the house, and in fact seemed to have perfect pitch. And since she wasn't making much progress in speech therapy, her parents asked about music therapy. Their speech therapist suggested they give it a try.

Soon Melinda Mansfield, MMT, MT-BC, was visiting Sara at her home, where the two played classical music and blew bubbles. They would sit together on the floor, each with a drum; Mansfield would bang out a rhythm on the drum and get Sara to play with her. Sometimes, she would sing to Sara, stopping before the last word in the verse. Quietly, with no one looking at her, Sara would sing the last word.

"Melinda slowly and methodically drew her out -- getting her to have fun with people," says Sara's mother, Karen.

Music turned out to be the way into Sara's world. It helped a child who previously couldn't express herself through language learn that words had meaning and that she could use them to communicate.