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Non Chemical Medicine

I recently read a very adamant academic document stating that playing music to autistic kids is not music therapy, singing to Downs kids is not music therapy. I think you get the picture. We don't do music therapy, yet we do. Of course we do!


Everything that we have done over this decade has been trial and error, doing something that has been born out of need. It’s then we have to research, realizing how much we don't know but we jump in anyway, watching, listening, pooling our resources and learning as we go.


So it was with music as therapy. We looked for a non verbal medium to work with the wonderful Downs and autistic kiddies that visit the stables for equine facilitated therapy. We began a year ago by providing music as a backdrop to the equine environment only to discover that some of the children connected to musical instruments. Over a period of time feedback from parents and family members told us that social skills, and social behavior were improving, including eating and sleeping habits. We heard that likewise communication skills were on the rise, and violent outbursts were decreasing. We heard that some of the children were asking for more time and connection with music, we pledged to make that available to them.


We slowly learned truths such as the pattern, the frequency and rhythm of music can provide such a special child what they need to help regulate their thoughts and brain processes, which creates a more fluid and coherent response to those and the world around them. Life gets better with music, providing an alternative language of expression and engaging both sides of the brain. When an instrument is practiced regularly it can help with speech, with motor skills, coordination and balance. All leading to a more content and integrated child. We, as patient bystanders are slowly, yes very slowly, witness to this.


“Music therapy can make the difference between withdrawal and awareness, between isolation and interaction, between demoralization and dignity.”

Barbara Crowe. Former USA President of the National Association for Music Therapy. 



“It was a great morning for me. I got to be with the horses and then learned to play the guitar, and also I was with all my friends. I am waiting to go back again. I hope the same guitar will be waiting for me."



Nurse Salah

“As you all know, children with Down’s Syndrome and Autism suffer from many difficulties in their daily life due to their inability to communicate and lack of focus and concentration. Our kiddies are in an exceptionally weak position due to parental lack of knowledge, refugee conditions which include lack of nutritious food plus a massive stigma in a society which shies away from the one who is different.

We have seen that the environment of the stables is perfect for all of these children, they are taken outside their tent, away from the pressure of the camp into pure nature where the only sounds are from the leaves of the trees in the breeze, from the duck pond or from animals. Horses for Hope is an environment for healing, giving them the ability to relax and breathe, then to connect with nature and their friends.

When we add music to this, the atmosphere becomes perfect, allowing the children space to participate and freedom to experiment. As a nurse I wish to explain music as therapy from a scientific standpoint. Auditory discrimination is the ability to recognize the difference in sound, tone, pitch, frequency and rhythm. When special needs children interact with music it helps them develop auditory discrimination which is essential for developing language, communication and reading skills, which of course lead to improved cognitive and social outcomes.

Whilst Mr. Natik and his music team are there to engage the children on the participatory level, I as Nurse am present to ensure their safety and wellbeing. I then report to the parents or guardians and give them advice on how to continue or implement that which has been achieved within their home environment.

We have temporarily suspended one Down’s Syndrome girl who has never been taught boundaries by her parents. She is a constant danger to herself and others, needing two adults to constantly supervise her. Once her parents have learned to work with us, and to establish boundaries for her safety, then she will be able to return.

The others are progressing well by connecting more deeply with both the animals and musical instruments. I am optimistic that both these mediums will affect their ability to communicate and focus."

Nurse Salah


“The power of music to integrate and cure is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest non chemical medicine.”

Oliver Sacks. Neuropsychologist and author 



“I love all of the musical instruments. They all have beautiful sounds and make a good rhythm.”



Natilk, Director of the Hope Academy of Music

“Anything that we can do to help these special children is sacred and holy. These children are deprived of a normal life and normal experiences and pleasures. The special needs children who visit us are somehow worn out, tired and exhausted. Their families are also suffering without the education or finance to help them. We have met some of the family members, most of whom do not even understand how or why their child is different from others. Many see it as a badge of shame.

When they come to the stables peace takes over. Their bodies and minds become quiet and relaxed. There is a sense of rest on their faces and their souls connect to the animals and the music. They have a strong desire to directly connect to the instruments. They love us playing music and singing to them, but they want direct connection and each one knows the instrument of choice. It is interesting that they all connect with rhythmic instruments, and I have come to understand why.

They want to hear each instrument, to touch it, to try to play it. Their bodies do not always cooperate, so we have to be careful to avoid potential situations of frustration. They are clever children wanting to understand how each instrument works and how rhythm is achieved.

Music as therapy is new to us and we are finding our way. It is still an unrecognized field in Kurdistan so we are pioneering, learning and doing, seeing what works and what does not. Before they visit again I want to develop exercises with their hands or bodies in rhythm that will be easier than the precise coordination needed for a delicate instrument. I feel strongly that music can be a large part of their healing and integration into social life. I feel strongly that with dedication and persistence we will see some of these children begin to express themselves.”

Natilk. Director of the Hope Academy of Music.



“I loved the horses, and I really loved the cowboy hat. They took many pictures for me today. The music was good but the hat was the best."



Wissam, Horses for Hope

“I feel very happy when I see a child laugh. What a huge pride it is to be able to bring joy and happiness to them through our sacred work.

I absolutely adore our special needs kiddies and want to help them as much as I can. I am not a trained musician but I love music. I play the daf and sing (when no one is watching) so to bring the two worlds that I love, of horses and music together for the sake of these precious souls, is so very special.

It brings me great joy when I see the children connecting with music. They love being sung to and try to join in, but the wow moment happens when they are given an instrument of their choice. It is as if you can see into their head, all the wheels begin to turn as they give all their energy and determination to connect with the instrument and to see what happens when they play it.

Mr. Natik and I are good friends so we always discuss the ways to make their experience more impactful in their life. We want to convey something beautiful to them that will touch and heal their soul. We want to see them connect and speak, we want to see them healed.

Thank you for listening to me again. I love you all very much."

Wissam. Horses for Hope.



“I felt so happy today. I love hearing the music and the songs. Today I sang along with them, they even played my favorite song for me. It was a very special day."



“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears. It is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more. It can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them music is not a luxury, it is a necessity. ”

Prof. Oliver Sacks



As I have been writing, my thoughts also turned to Biblical David before he was King. The narrative of 1 Samuel 16:23 tells us he played harp music to King Saul at times when an evil spirit troubled him, “So Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”


We long to see these special needs kiddies, those struggling with Downs and autism to come into their fullest and highest destiny. We want to see them well, refreshed and able to speak, to express themselves, to connect with themselves and those around them. We want to see them defined by their giftings and talents which may be different and will only be recognized by very special people.  These are not empty kids. They are full, fuller than we can imagine or describe. We just have to give them healing in the form of non chemical medicine.


And of course, as with all we do, we ask for the hand of God to be upon both them and us as we charter new waters in a non academic way.


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