Google Glass: Applications for Music Therapy and Special Needs

Google Glass: Applications for Music Therapy and Special Needs

Google announced beta testing of its highly anticipated “Project Glass,” or “Google Glass,” the ultra-cool, futuristic “augmented reality” head wear that responds to your vocal commands. Lost in a strange city? No worries, Google Glass projects directions directly over what you’re looking at! No more wondering what street you’re on, which way is North, or how far from your destination you are. Want to try a good restaurant in this city you’re exploring? How about Google reviews projected onto the buildings as you walk through the neighborhood, telling you what others have recommended? It’s like something out of a Sci-Fi flick.

Now, obviously, there have been those who have voiced their concern with a further invasion of technology in our lives, but as with any technology developed from the Dawn of Man to the year 3535, it’s not the tool that causes problems, it’s how we decide to use it.

So I got to thinking: How could Google Glass revolutionize the special needs community, and more specifically music therapy? When the iPad first came out, the reaction from many was something along the lines of “Big deal, it’s just a bigger iPhone.” But then the special needs community got hold of it, and it changed that community in a big, big way. I think just about every child with autism I serve has an iPad that they use for communication, learning, and fun. The instant feedback it provides has clicked perfectly within the autism community. It’s impact really cannot be overstated.

I think it’s fair to say Google Glass may have a similar effect, so here’s what I would do as a music therapist if I were one of the lucky few who got to test out Google Glass:


1. Record video on the fly to show parents and caretakers

Many times, parents and caretakers aren’t present in the room when we work with clients (something that occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and physical therapists often deal with as well). Many times, children simply work with more focus when not distracted by the presence of mom or dad. But there are SO many times when I see one of my clients do something AMAZING that I would love for mom and dad to see! So I grab my iPad from my bag, open the video app, hit record, and…nothing. The moment has passed. Arg!

Cue Google Glass. The second I see that client finally saying that vowel sound they’ve bene struggling with, I give a quick “Ok Glass, record video” command, and boom! I’m recording exactly what I see, from my perspective. I can then shoot that video over to mom’s email, and she can see how hard her daughter was working in therapy today!


2. Start a Google+ Hangout during therapy

Recording video is cool, but what if dad wants to watch a whole session without being a distraction? Well, thanks to Google+ Hangouts, he can sit in the waiting room with his iPad, start a hangout with me wearing Glass, and watch our whole session from my point of view. Plus, I can see his video feed in the eye piece. So if he wants to give me some feedback and background information on what they’ve been working on, we can do that in real time.

This doesn’t have to be limited to the parents either. There are some HIPAA compliance issues here to iron out, but what if I was able to communicate live with another therapist on this client’s interdisciplinary team during my session? Or their doctor? Imagine the kind of patient-centered care is possible because of this. If you work in healthcare, that should make you giddy.


3. Make accurate quantitative measurements without interruption.

Music therapists, along with occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists, frequently have to measure specific movements a client makes. It could be stride length, how high they can lift their foot, how far they can reach their arm, etc. Sometimes, this involves a quick visual assessment, other times it requires positioning a measuring device near the client while they complete the task. This can cause interruption of the therapeutic activity (not to mention, you’d need more arms than an octopus to hold the measuring device, play your guitar, and engage your client all at the same time).

While I have not seen this mentioned yet in the Google Glass demos, I’d be shocked if later versions weren’t able to track and measure the movements of objects around you. Perhaps I could have it track my client’s arm movements while he plays a drum, and provide me measurements of his range of motion. As we work on this goal, I can see accurate results across six months of how much his range of motion has increased. This could apply to timed measurements as well, as Glass provides a heads-up-display of time. Graph it, print it, submit it to insurance, baby!


4. View song lyrics and chord sheets.

Ruh-roh. It’s happened to all of us. You prepared a new song for a group session, then suddenly the lyrics and chords escape you (usually mid-verse) in front of the whole group. I think every music therapist in the world has gotten chewed out for this by a professor at least once during their training.

“Ok Glass, look up lyrics to ‘American Pie’.”

Back on track. I can watch my group, attend to their needs, keep them on track, AND make quick glances at my chord sheet, without skipping a beat.


5. Revolutionize therapist training.

Every therapist at some point in their career, usually while still in school, has had to record a session, then go over the video with a professor to get feedback and suggestions for improvement. How about we skip that whole step, start a Google+ Hangout with the professor, and get feedback in real time?

“She just did your target behavior, provide praise and reinforcement!”

“Looks like some speech issues there, make note of that and address it with the parents”

Or perhaps a student could look up a list of symptoms for a new population they’re learning about, and have that list right in front of their face as they work with this client, helping them learn what to look for when working with someone with Alzheimer’s Disease.

This could change the way we teach and train not only music therapists, but every healthcare professional.


6. Provide long distance adaptive lessons.

What if you had a client who was leaving town for an entire month, but wanted to keep up with their adaptive lessons? Have them wear a pair and give their lesson long distance! You can watch them play from their perspective and provide feedback and instruction.


7.  Real time social skills training.

For many people with autism, social interactions can be a source of anxiety and difficulty. Many places offer social skills classes, where students practice scenarios such as going to the store, hanging out with friends, even going on a date. What if the students watched an instructor actually go out to the grocery store, and follow along and learn from his interactions? Better yet, what if the students themselves went out into a social situation, while a teacher watched and gave feedback as needed? We could teach independence in a way we never thought possible.


8. Translate instructions for clients and parents.

Every therapist has come across a language barrier at some point. Perhaps a parent or caretaker does not speak English. No problem, Google Glass can follow your voice commands to translate a word or sentence, which you can then (attempt) to relay to the parent or caretaker.


9. Give parents a way to show healthcare providers concerns in the home environment.

One night, you notice a strange rash has developed on your child. Or they’re acting in a way that they never act when at school or therapy. Now you can start a hangout or take a video of the behavior or medical concern and show it to your healthcare provider in real time. No longer do you have to deal with trying to show a doctor or therapist what he was doing the day before, you can show it to her as you saw it.


The possibilites really are endless. This device is just beyond cool, and it could have a profound effect on the healthcare community. As we move more and more to patient-centered, patient-satisfaction driven models, I think we’ll see devices like Google Glass being used to increase access to and communication between providers and patients.

What do you think? What possibilities do you see for this new technology? Leave a comment and let us know!

We may not have Google Glass, but we’ve got something even better! Our team of fantastically talented, caring music therapists here at The George Center are ready to work with your child! Want to learn more about what music therapy can do? Let’s talk!

Music Therapy | Atlanta

Andrew Littlefield, MM, MT-BC

Andrew is a board-certified music therapist who has been with The George Center since 2012.


  • JoAnn Jordan


    Like your thoughts especially with the video taping. Hangs free video would also be less distracting for the client.

    February 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm
  • Ginny Driscoll


    Really like this idea, especially for catching behaviors that are spontaneous!

    February 27, 2013 at 5:33 pm
  • Matt


    I was brainstorming ways to use Google Glass this morning and decided to do a search. Not surprised that you have also thought about this, Andrew!

    March 3, 2014 at 10:27 pm

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