- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2011

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — She holds the violin under her chin and positions her fingers under the neck of the instrument. Then she holds the bow steady as she begins to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as her mother smiles.

Hannah Cooley, 7, is a student with autism who receives music therapy from University of Alabama students at Sprayberry Education Center.

Carol Prickett, a professor of music, founded the program in 1985, and it is still the only music therapy program in the state. The program at Alabama takes a little more than four years for students to complete.

There are 30 students in the program seeking to obtain a degree in music therapy.

“Music therapy has been deemed a formal profession for 60 years now, and I have been a part of the profession for 40 of those years,” Prickett said.

Prickett is credited with bringing music therapy to both Alabama and Georgia College. She also is well-known in the profession as the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Music Therapy Association in 2009.

The scope of music therapy’s benefits can extend through all age groups. The therapy can begin in the nursery room, aiding premature babies, and help elderly Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, said Andrea Cevasco, an assistant professor at UA who also works in music therapy.

“Neurologically, premature babies are not fully ready to enter the world,” she said. “Sometimes when they enter the noisy environment in the neonatal intensive care unit that involves alarms and beeping, the babies tend to get distressed.”

The distress can elevate their heart rates, she said. In music therapy, students sing lullabies to the babies, hum and rock until the babies’ heart rates return to a normal level.

“Another thing we have seen of babies that have received music therapy is that they go home two to nine days early than others,” Cevasco said.

“This ultimately is able to save the hospital unit $2,000 to $4,000 dollars a day.”

Music therapy was also an aid to Hannah, who learned how to play the violin from her music therapy teacher. She carries a photograph of herself and Kiemel Lamb, a University of Alabama student teacher, with her everywhere she goes.

Shannon Cooley, Hannah’s mother, said Hannah comes home in a good mood after every music therapy class.

“A full moon and a storm can make my daughter have reactions, but I can play music for her as a form of the therapy to soothe her,” Cooley said. “A reaction that may have typically lasted 30 to 45 minutes now only lasts for 15 to 20 minutes.”

In her class, Hannah typically plays the music while the other students sing. Cooley said she appreciates how her daughter’s teacher is able to connect with the students.

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