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Music therapy helps special needs students, seniors

By: Michael T. Burkhart

"Nick Grasso's eyes lit up as he listened to the soothing sound of the flute being played by Susan Herrick.

Later, he felt the rhythm of the drum and the pitch from the pipe.

A couple times a month, Grasso, 12, of Marlton and other special needs students strum guitars, bang on drums and clap to the beat as part of Archway Lower School's music in the classroom program at the Atco campus.

But the sessions are not so much about learning music as they are about increasing self-esteem, building social skills and practicing listening and respect.

"(The children) are learning, but it's coming in the back door," said Herrick, 43, of Newfoundland, Pa., in the Poconos. "There's a reward that's immediate. That's the power and the magic of music therapy."

The youngsters at Archway have a number of special needs -- from students such as Grasso with cerebral palsy, to autism and Asperger's syndrome.

In one class, Herrick starts with an improvised song asking the youngsters their names.

In a class of six older students, she took a ukulele from a black case and showed them how to hold and strum the instrument.

"I got here first so I get the first one," said 13-year-old Sam Keifer, of Medford, as he sat quickly on the floor. "I do much better with a pick since I don't have long nails."

The exercise was also a lesson in sharing and listening."

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