As a child sits down for his 30-minute therapy session with Mary Altom, he glances at a pile of folders and workbooks and immediately knows which exercise he wants to do first: the igloo game.
The purpose of the exercise is to match letters on a picture of an igloo. Rather than just asking the child to find the right letter, Altom pats her hands on her lap and begins singing: “Find the letter S, S, S. Find the letter S, S, S. Put it on the igloo.”
Altom, the owner of Sound Starts Music Therapy, uses music to help children with autism and other intellectual disabilities strengthen their cognitive, motor, speech and social skills.
“When you pair information to music, it makes it easier to remember,” she said. “When I’m working with a child, I want to know and assess whether or not they can retain information that’s presented in that musical context. If that is the case, then I can teach them things like the days of the week, how to count and multiplication facts because I can take all that information and embed it into a song.”
She said music helps pull out language and other cognitive skills, even if a child does not use those skills in everyday speech.
Sound Starts opened in 2011 with the first sessions taking place in Altom’s home. Her client base grew to a point where she had to find a commercial space for her clinic. She said the demand for music therapists is growing in Frisco and across the country.
“Our phone just keeps ringing, and as long as it does, I plan on growing our therapists’ caseloads and hiring more therapists,” she said.
Most of the clients at Sound Starts are children with autism, but Altom works with students who have a range of social and intellectual issues.
Altom said she has witnessed the incredible effects music therapy has had on children. One of her clients can speak only a few sentences, but he can sing with perfect pitch and plays the piano by ear.
Even for simple requests such as asking a child to sit down, Altom said she sometimes gets a better response when she sings rather than speaks.
“There’s no magic, but there is some science behind it,” she said.
Sound Starts Music Therapy
3550 Parkwood Blvd., Ste. 705, Frisco
Hours: by appointment only