Pupils and staff from Tor Bank Special School in Dundonald marched on Stormont last week to demonstrate their anger and frustration that music therapy funds will be stopped in a fortnight.
The ‘A Mile for Music Therapy' event on Wednesday, March 9, followed the announcement that 600 children and young people with severe learning disabilities across Northern Ireland are to lose their specialist music therapy service from April 1.
Music therapist at Tor Bank, Emma Donnelly said: “About 300 people, including children and parents took part in the walk. Some MLAs came out and talked to us but the majority of them were unaware of music therapy.”
Music therapy improves communication and social skills — particularly for severely disabled children, but also those with mental illnesses, brain injuries or a life- limiting illness.
Tor Bank normally provides children with a stimulating and fun hour-long session every week in which they interact with their friends, staff and the therapist. The session lets every child participate and also involves individual therapy.
Children are given their own musical instrument to play along with the therapist who uses a key-board. There is a lot of singing involved and at the beginning and end of the session each child is musically welcomed and said goodbye to through singing and music. The session brings the class together with their assistants and teacher to ensure the children participate fully and most importantly enjoy it.
Christine Thompson, a teacher at Tor Bank said its impact is vital: “A therapist recognises things that a teacher would not see. A therapist looks after the health and well-being of the child, whereas the teacher is for education. During the sessions we notice the children interacting in a way which they would not do otherwise.”
Music therapists work alongside health trust therapy professionals in 18 special schools every week.
Fiona Davidson, director of Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust (NIMTT) said: “Music therapy has become an essential part of their health care.
“It is hard to understand how removing this vital front line service will address the budgetary shortfall.”
Emma Donnelly added: “We are absolutely horrified that such a vital service for vulnerable children is being taken away. At the minute it is free and should remain free, parents cannot be expected to pay for the service.”
Nina Mc Coi a teacher at Tor Bank said:”It is just devastating.
“The kids get so much enjoyment from it and it is so frustrating as the children are finally making progress and now it is being cut. The children will miss it terribly.”