Down Syndrome Awareness Month Interview with Miss Karen

In celebration of Down Syndrome Awareness Month we took a minute to catch up with our child specialist, “Miss Karen” Karen House, MT-BC.  Check out what she had to say about working with children with Down Syndrome.

What made you pursue a career in music therapy?

“I grew up knowing I wanted to do something with music for the rest of my life, but I wasn’t quite sure what. I thought about becoming a music teacher, but it didn’t feel like the best fit for me. I also thought about doing music performance with my main instrument- violin, but the competitive nature of performance schools were the opposite of my personality. After taking a career test in High School, I saw music therapy pretty high on my list and began researching a little more. I was intrigued by a job that combined my love of music with my desire to help others and began shadowing music therapists in the area. I even went to Cleveland to shadow the great Deforia Lane, although at the time I didn’t realize what an amazing name she was in the field! After seeing music therapy in action, I was hooked!”

Tell me about your background in working with children with Down Syndrome.

“I did many practicums and my music therapy internship at preschool locations with a high population of children with Down Syndrome. While working at Upstate Music Therapy Center in Rochester, NY, I was the music therapist at a private school called School of the Holy Childhood whose majority student population has Down Syndrome, ages 5-21 years old. It was wonderful being around those students and using music therapy to help them improve communication skills and self-advocacy, as well as work on job-related skills to help them in their future careers. The students with Down Syndrome were some of the sweetest, most caring, and funniest kids I’ve ever worked with! I don’t think I went a single day at work without laughing with my kids!

In Boynton Beach, I am currently working leading a “mommy-and-me” style music therapy group with babies and toddlers at the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization. It’s wonderful to see the interaction between moms and their babies through musical play and singing!”

Why do you think music therapy is an effective treatment for children with Down Syndrome?

“Children with Down Syndrome are just like any other child- curious, playful, and excited to do. Music reaches them for all those reasons; it’s playful and fun, and turns learning and work into games. It’s exciting and new, there are endless possibilities to create rhythms sing different songs, so it’s easy to capture and maintain attention to task. Music encourages interaction with others and promotes positive cooperative play. The steady rhythm of a song might improve impulse control, and using instruments and movement-to-music encourages fine and gross-motor development to improve muscle tone and increase exercise. The best part about using music therapy with children with Down Syndrome- a single music therapy task can target any number of these goals at the same time- communication (verbal and non-verbal), socialization, cognition, and motor!”

Tell me about your work with the siblings and parents of children with Down Syndrome.  Why do you think that is beneficial? 

“It’s hard for a parent of any child with special needs to see their kid develop and grow at a different pace than kids around them. I’ve seen parents in tears during music therapy sessions after seeing what their child was capable of doing, making sounds and interacting in ways they’ve rarely or never seen outside of music therapy. I love involving siblings as well, because it’s just as important for siblings to see what their brother or sister is able to do independently and encourage them to use those skills outside of music therapy rather than doing things for them.”

What is one of your favorite music therapy interventions for working with children with DS and why?

“There’s a song I found online called, ‘What are you Wearing?’ Here is a basic verse:

What are you wearing, what are you wearing,

What are you wearing today, today?


What are you wearing, what are you wearing,

What are you wearing today, today?


If you’re wearing pants, stand up!

If you’re wearing pants, turn around – clap your hands – sit back down!

I’ve adapted the original to target a bunch of skills at once in a group setting. The lyrics prompt children to observe what they are wearing, whether it’s a shirt, dress, shoes, pants, etc. or specific colors or patterns/pictures. They must also observe what they are NOT wearing. Everyone wants to stand up and do the movements, but if I sing about a hat and they are not wearing a hat, it’s a difficult thing to wait and remain seated, especially when some friends get to take a turn. The end of each verse includes at least a 3-step direction, which is a very common goal for children with Down Syndrome (following multi-step directions). It also includes physical activity of standing and sitting in addition to anything else I might throw in- jumping, marching, kicking, etc. Within this one intervention we target non-verbal communication, cognition, gross motor and socialization. Plus, it’s a catchy song and fun to sing!'”


If you have any questions for Miss Karen, let us know!


For more information on Down Syndrome visit the National Down Syndrome Society