San Diego Special Education Music Therapy


Special Education Music Therapy

San Diego Special Education Music Therapy Services

Coast Music Therapy is the largest California provider of music therapy as a related service in the educational setting. Since 1999, our Board Certified Music Therapists have provided special education music therapy services to more than 25 San Diego County school districts and served more than 1000 students through the Individualized Education Program (IEP).  We are a Non-Public Agency (NPA), certified through the California Department of Education to provide special education services to schools.

Music therapy was formally added to the California Code of Regulations under the list of related services in May 2014.  This law clarified the role of music therapy in special education and specified the professional credentials needed to provide music therapy.  Read more about these regulations here.

Under the direction of autism specialist and music therapist Michelle Lazar, MA, MT–BC, Coast Music Therapy utilizes research-based interventions, drawing from the fields of Neurologic Music Therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis.  Our special education interventions align with IEP goals and educational standards such as Common Core Standards and Preschool Learning Foundations (California).   We require that our staff members:

  • Provide ethical IEP-based assessment to assure that music therapy as a related service is only recommended when it is required
  • Utilize positive behavior supports to promote student sucess
  • Have undergone background checks and health clearances required of California Non-Public agencies
  • Possess current board certification from the Certification Board for Music Therapists

Read Our Music Therapy in Special Education Blog Posts»»
Learn More About the Coast Music Therapy Team»»

School Program Options

Music Therapy in Special Education Services

IEP Funded Special Education Services

  • Collaboration
  • Consultation
  • Development of songs for IEP goals
  • Direct service

Non-IEP Funded Special Education Services

  • Special education classroom consultations
  • Music therapy professional development workshops
  • Provision of Tuned in to Learning music curriculum for district-wide use
  • Inclusion training for music educators
Email a Request for More Information»»
View the Tuned in to Learning Curriculum»»
View Our San Diego Special Education Workshops»»

Comparison of Music Therapy Services: IEP Vs Private Therapy


IEP Music therapy can only be added to a student’s IEP if a music therapy assessment has determined it is required in order for the student to benefit from their educational program. Service must be discontinued once the student no longer requires it to progress.
Private Any child or teen can attend private music therapy sessions, although the private music therapist will want to discuss the child’s potential benefit with the family before commencing treatment. Services may continue until it is agreed they are no longer needed.

Goal Areas

IEP The music therapist must legally assist with and document on the specific IEP goals that the team agreed required additional support. These goals are non-musical in nature.
Private Music therapy in the private setting can support a wide array of needs including non-IEP goals identified by the music therapist or parent, and musical goals such as learning an instrument.


IEP Therapy is provided at the student’s school site and will typically include peer integration, collaboration and consultation with other IEP team members and assistance with generalization. Legally, the music therapist must use interventions based on research, such as techniques from the fields of Neurologic Music Therapy or Applied Behavior Analysis.
Private Private music therapy is often provided in a one-to-one setting at a therapy clinic or the child’s home. If appropriate, sessions can involve family members, peers, or other professionals.

Download a Comparison of Private and IEP-Based Music Therapy»»


Frequently Asked Questions About IEP-Based Music Therapy Services


Q    Can music therapy be part of a student’s Individualized Education Program?
A    Yes, according to the June 2010 US Department of Education (OSERS, 2000) clarification, music therapy may be considered as an IEP-related service for a student after an assessment determines services to be not only useful, but required for the student to benefit from his or her educational program.

“The Department’s long-standing interpretation is that the list of related services in the IDEA and the Part B regulations is not exhaustive and may include other developmental, corrective, or supportive services (such as artistic and cultural programs, art, music, and dance therapy), if they are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education in order for the child to receive FAPE. As is true regarding consideration of any related service for a child with a disability under Part B of the IDEA, the members of the child’s IEP Team (which include the parents, school officials, and whenever appropriate, the child with a disability) must make individual determinations in light of each child’s unique abilities and needs about whether an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy is required to assist the child to benefit from special education.”

Download the 2010 Clarification Statement»»

In addition, music therapy was specifically added to the California Code of Regulations in 2014 as a related service for special education. Read more here.

Q    Who can conduct a music therapy assessment?
A    A music therapy assessment of any kind can only be conducted by a Board Certified Music Therapist.  Music therapists are credentialed professionals who have completed a degree in music therapy including a clinical internship, and who have passed The Board Certification Examination in Music Therapy. Board Certified Music Therapists carry the credential “MT-BC” (Music Therapist- Board Certified) after their name.

According to the June 2010 US Department of Education (OSERS, 2000) clarification, “If a child’s IEP includes an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy as a related service, the SEA would be responsible for ensuring that the child received that service from appropriately and adequately trained personnel, consistent with 34 CFR §300.156(b).”

Learn More About Music Therapy Board Certification Requirements»»
View Music Therapy Degree Requirements»»

Q    How is music therapy added to an IEP as a related service?
A     The addition of music therapy to a student’s IEP only occurs after an assessment is conducted by a Board Certified Music Therapist. The following are common procedures:

  1. School district receives a request for music therapy assessment from the parent or another member of the IEP team.
  2. Upon team determination that a music therapy assessment is appropriate, school district develops assessment plan.
  3. After parent signature, music therapist begins assessment process.
  4. Music therapist reviews student IEP and educational records, receives staff and parent input, observes the student often in a music and non-music setting, conducts direct trials with IEP-aligned music therapy interventions, and prepares a report.
  5. Music therapist presents assessment at an IEP meeting.
  6. If assessment findings and IEP team agreement determine that music therapy is a necessity, the service  is added to the related services section of the IEP and the music therapist is added to relevant IEP goals as a collaborative support.
  7. Music therapist reviews the necessity of music therapy at each annual and triennial IEP to verify that service continues to be required for the student.
  8. When assessment determines that music therapy is no longer a necessity, services are discontinued.  At this time, the music therapist can provide further suggestions for the continued use of music by staff and parents.

Download a Special Education Music Therapy Assessment Overview»»

Q    What is Coast Music Therapy’s assessment process for music therapy through the IEP?
A    Based on the assessment of over 1000 students via the IEP since 1999, Coast Music Therapy has developed their own special education assessment tool and uses the following criteria to make determinations regarding the necessity of music therapy in the educational setting:

  • Are specialized music approaches, beyond any currently available to the learner’s program, necessary to access the learning strength in music?
  • Do inadequate progress, interfering behaviors, or limited number of instructional approaches require that the learner receive additional support to achieve IEP goals?
  • Does research support music therapy as an appropriate intervention for the learner’s specific IEP goal areas?
  • Does research support that the learner’s diagnosis shows learning strength for music use to enhance educational performance?

Download an IEP Eligibility Assessment Flow Chart PDF»»

Q    What types of students are most likely to require music therapy as a related service?
A     Students who are appropriate candidates for music therapy assessment typically show one or more of the indicators below:

  • Learners who are not making adequate progress in IEP goal areas which music therapy is being requested to assist with
  • Learners whose enhanced preference or strength for music is one of only a few motivators
  • Learners who require music as a multi-sensory modality to overcome vision impairment, multiple disabilities, or limited response capacity
  • Learners who show significantly enhanced learning or memorization when receiving information via song or chant
  • Learners who show significantly enhanced speech attempts or increased phrase length with music use
  • Learners who demonstrate significantly increased motor attempts, imitation skills, or ability to follow instructions when receiving information via music or rhythm

Download an IEP-Funded Music Therapy Indicators PDF»»