Music Therapy and Autism
Autism Awareness month is coming to an end, and we have been sharing a lot of information on how music therapy can be used to promote development in children with autism. There is a variety of research out there about music therapy and autism. The American Science Foundation references many of these studies, as does Coast Music Therapy, the American Music Therapy Association, and the Nurse Journal - just to name a few!
Music Therapists use evidence-based practices, like in the articles referenced above, to work on functional skills. This can include communication skills, cognitive development, motor/physical skills, aiding in sensory integration, and social/emotional skill development. Here are some of my favorite ways music can be used to help children with autism reach their fullest potential.
#1 – Increasing communication
Singing and speech are processed the same way in the body. Singing different songs with children can work on respiration, phonation, resonance, articulation, and fluency – depending on that child’s biggest area of need.
While both speech and singing are processed in the body the same way, melodies of songs are processed in the right hemisphere of the brain while spoken word is mostly processed in the left hemisphere of the brain. Singing can activate new neural pathways in the brain, which can facilitate speech in previously non-verbal children.
#2 – Providing sensory integration
Music is a sensory experience in itself, providing auditory stimulation through singing, tactile input through instrument play, and visual input through parachute or ribbon wand play.
In addition to this multi-sensory environment, the steady beat of rhythm can be used to regulate children who have a difficult time integrating sensory information into their body. A steady beat, paired with sensory input, helps sensory information stay in the body for a longer period of time - helping children stay focused and regulated.
#3 – Promoting social development
Making music as a group involves teamwork and cooperative play, which is often an area of need for children with autism. Through instrument play, children have to take turns and work on social cues such as gestures.
Dancing or moving with props like the stretchy band allows children to engage in cooperative play in a new, fun way.
Singing songs gives children the opportunity to work together or make eye contact with one another to know when it is their turn to play - promoting social communication development.
#4 – Managing behaviors
Providing cues and directions through music can help children who are usually defiant participate in activities and follow directions.
Music can also be used as a reward for positive behaviors. A good therapist will structure the group to provide reinforcers and rewards throughout the session to keep children on-task and engaged.
#5 – IT’S FUN!
Music is a fun way to engage children of all ages and abilities. Most people inherently enjoy music and are excited to participate in musical activities.
Music Therapy is an opportunity for children to work on critical skill areas while still having fun! This can be especially beneficial for children with autism who are spending many hours a week in therapy already.
There are so many ways children with autism can benefit from music therapy. At Dynamic Lynks, we provide both individual and group sessions to work on all of the areas above – and many more! If you are interested in pursuing music therapy for your child, or know a child who would benefit, please reach out to us. We know many music therapists all over the country who would love to help your child reach their fullest potential!