Altenmueller, Eckart (2008).
Musical Learning in Individuals with Disabilities
In Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy, 233-266, W. Gruhn and F. Rauscher, editors.
The two main focuses of this article are the effects of music learning on our brain development and the impacts of physical/visual/hearing impairments, localized brain lesions, central nervous disorder, development disabilities, and chromosomal disorders on musical experience and musical learning of individuals.
Since musical experience encompasses a wide range of emotional, sensorimotor, and emotional experiences, it activates multiple regions of the brain and is able to induce changes in brain structures (233-234). For a disabled individual, while her/his musical experience is affected by the disability, she/he may still enjoy other aspects of musical activities, thanks to the multifaceted nature of musical experience.
The author presents the following disabilities, their physiological and neurobiological manifestation, and their impact on musical activities of individuals with case studies:
1. Physical disabilites such as physical impairments (239-241), visual impairments (241-242), and hearing impairments (242-245)
2. Localized brain lesions causing receptive and expressive amusia (245-247), congenital amusia (247-249), and central nervous disorder such as focal dystonia (249-251)
3. Developmental disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (251-253), dyslexia (253-254), autism and autism spectrum disorder (254-256), and savants (257-258)
4. Chromosomal disorders such as Down Syndrome (259-260) and Williams Syndrome (260-261).
Although symptoms of various disabilities do affect an individual's musical experience, adequate exposure and the plasticity of human brain can still enable her/him to participate in musical activities and enjoy their benefits.
From an educator's point of view, the author wishes to enlarge other teachers' understanding of students with disabilities and encourage their creativity in designing appropriate activities for guiding these students on a fulfilling musical journey.
Review & Reflection
This article is very helpful in giving guidelines, references, and explanations about a wide array of disabilities in relation to music-learning activities. As a teacher, understanding why a student behaves in a certain way helps greatly in discovering how and what we can do together. The absence of this knowledge can cause the feeling of frustration, fear, and failure in both teacher and student.
Similarly, the paragraphs about focal dystonia are enlightening on how instrumentalists need to educate themselves in their daily practice and performance activities. What we do on a regular basis affects our whole system. Although there is no immediate cure for this disorder, knowing what not to do when our body reacts in this unpleasant way can avoid further damage.
After reading this article, I am in the full conviction that our action and decision shape our life as much as what we come with at birth. It is not about what we are, but how we live.