Mama Moment: How Being a Music Therapist Prepared Me for Motherhoos

The following is a guest post by Mary Altom, a board-certified music therapist and neurologic music therapist. She owns Sound Starts Music, a private practice in Frisco, TX and Music Therapy Kids, an online resource for parents and professionals working with children who have special needs.

Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of experience with babies or little kids. My cousins lived far away. I was not one to babysit for extra money. I was never one to fawn over new babies at church, and I certainly didn’t spend time wishing for one of my own. My husband and I were married for 5 years before we had our son Jaxon (he’s now 2 ½). At first I was clueless. I had no idea how to hold a baby or change a diaper. And we went to every parenting class offered by the hospital.

As you fellow mamas know, the “mommy” gig (though certainly full of its share of challenges and frustrations) has turned out to be pretty sweet! AND as it turns out, I was not as completely unprepared as I thought.

Thanks to my career as a music therapist.

Since starting out as a music therapist (in 2007), I have had the privilege of serving children with special needs. In undergrad, I never pictured myself working full time with this population but as it turns out, this work is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I have encountered many great teachers and therapists during this time who have taught me their strategies, what works and doesn’t work, and how to individualize for each child. Here are a few examples:

Developmental Milestones. You can be sure that since the moment Jaxon was born I have been observing his milestone’s like a hawk. Working with many children on the Autism spectrum, I KNOW to be vigilant about observing Jaxon’s eye contact, social interactions, language development, and motor skills. I feel like being a music therapist has given me the huge advantage of awareness. If something seems off, I am ready to call our doctor and early intervention specialists. I am aware of MANY resources available to him should we need them.

Language Development. This is probably my favorite. I work on a lot of communication objectives in my work as a music therapist. Everything from choice making to labeling items to answering WH questions. I took sign language classes in college, and was able to use sign to communicate with Jaxon way before he could talk (who knew that would be so useful!). Now that he is jabbering about everything, I am able to help him develop his vocabulary everywhere we go. I can give responses in a way that helps him to learn new concepts.

Behavior. Many of the classrooms that I serve have a behavior plan in place for each child. It is my responsibility to learn the techniques used in the classroom and apply them to music therapy sessions for consistency across environments. Since entering the “terrible twos” many of these techniques have come in super handy as a mommy. “First/Then” statements help encourage compliance. Simplified wording helps Jaxon understand exactly what is being asked. Knowing that if I place a demand, that I must follow through is a huge help. I frequently ignore undesired behaviors (within reason) and give lots of positive reinforcement! Does this make him a perfect toddler? Definitely not. We still have plenty of tantrums at our house. It just gives me a little more sanity to know that I am responding in an effective way.

Overall, I owe much of my parenting philosophy to my work a music therapist. How about you? Has being a music therapist shaped your perspective as a mom? Or has being a mom changed your perspective and approach as a music therapist? Let us know in the comments!

Are you a music therapist with a “mama moment” to share? If so, please submit your story, along with a photo and short bio, via email

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