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How Can Music Help Children Living with Disability?

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Apr 17, 2023

Sign up now for a Kids Sensory Music Cafe performance

Music is especially powerful for young children because it supports their learning and development. Listening to and making music is both a logical and creative activity that uses both sides of the brain and helps children build important neural connections and learn valuable numeracy, literacy and emotional skills.

However, for children with disability, attending live performances can be challenging. That’s why we partnered with Sydney Opera House to create the Kids Sensory Music Café and help break down those barriers. Here, children experience the magic of live music performance for the first time and enjoy all the benefits it brings.

Two toddlers play together on a mat. One is holding a streamer.

The performance is held in a large open lobby which creates a relaxed atmosphere. The children are not restricted and can wiggle, run and crawl around while enjoying the performance.

Susan Spruce, the program’s leader at Lifestart, says this is central to its success. “The young people are allowed to be themselves. We’re not asking the children to change or the parents to change. We will change to suit our audience this time.”

The Sydney Opera House adapted the popular Kids Music Café program after witnessing how conventional children’s performances can exclude children with disability. Jenny Spinak, the Accessibility Manager at the Sydney Opera House, says this can take many different forms.

“It might be a child with hearing impairment who can’t follow a show when a performer talks with music playing in the background, or for children with vision impairment who when a performer makes visual references on stage may miss out on the ability to follow instructions and connect with the concepts being performed,” she says.

Susan Spruce says this importantly takes the pressure off parents and carers. “Parents might feel worried that their young person could overreact in a situation or become over-stimulated. But in this environment, they’re supported,” she says.

Also included as part of the day is the Sensorium Theatre where children are given activities during each song that engage their senses. By listening to the music and singing along, children can develop their language, mobility, and rhythm.

A mother holds her baby in one arm, and with the other holds up a streamer for the baby to play with. She is smiling.

Jenny notes, “Conventional performances tend to rely on seeing, hearing and following a linear narrative to involve its audience. By engaging all five senses, there are more ways for children to engage with the performance. Kids Sensory Music Café not only presents the series in a multi-sensory way but offers a more intimate performance setting where performers can slow down to carefully observe and respond to the reactions of the audience.”

But Susan says the most important part is that learning about music gives children the opportunity to show their emotions and personalities: “It’s just such a way for children to express who they are.”

Sign up now

There are tickets available for the Kids Sensory Music Cafe on May 26 from 10:30-11am for children aged 0-2 and a handful available for April 28 (be quick!). Admission is free. Sign up now for the next Kids Sensory Music Cafe performance here.

Share music with your child at home

There are many ways you can introduce music to your child at home. If you are working with a Lifestart key worker, you can ask them about musical activities you can do with your child. You can also try some of these activities: