Music has always had a therapeutic effect on people, and even more so for individuals diagnosed with autism, especially children. Its calming effects have been well established within the medical community, helping to ease their integration into society.
Music is often used as a supplement when they are learning verbal communication skills, as it provides an entirely different way for children with autism to express themselves.
Having another channel of communication can sometimes be vital to increasing the intimacy between parents and their children with autism. Also, kids on the autism spectrum are exceptionally responsive to musical stimuli, and it can be used to reinforce desired responses from them.
Decades of research have shown that music and autism are closely linked. While autistic individuals are slower to develop speech communication skills, they are able to understand music equally well, if not better than individuals who do not have autism.
While autism can affect an individual to different degrees, music therapy is consistently beneficial across the entire spectrum of autism.
To be specific, autistic children have an enhanced ability to recognize pitch, memorize tunes, and map emotions onto musical pieces. In some specific individuals, they have been able to master playing the piano fluently even before they can speak complete sentences.
Music has been shown in schools to improve responses in autistic children. Studies reveal that autistic kids respond much more frequently than usual during music lessons. Music not only motivates them to respond more often but also helps them to enjoy the process of expressing themselves.
If we look closer at how a musical band works, it can reveal exactly why music therapy can be beneficial to autistic children. A band involves different instruments working and coordinating with each other to produce a unified tune, yet only requires an individual player to focus on one instrument at first.
The gradual coordination between different instruments is not unlike how normal individuals coordinate their senses in their everyday lives. This is exactly what an autistic child finds hard to do, so learning through music can gradually help them understand and improve their cognitive coordination skills.
One of the common ways to include music in learning is for autistic kids to engage in musical improvisation, where a therapist demonstrates how to use an instrument, followed by allowing autistic kids to play the instruments in any way they like. As there is no such thing as a mistake in improvisation, therapists can continuously encourage and build their confidence in expressing themselves through a musical instrument.
Another way to use music in therapy is to let them memorize and repeat simple songs, which can be much easier for them to master than speech. Studies have also shown that simple classical tunes have the best effect in calming autistic kids, and eventually through playing these in the background in their daily lives, can improve their control on their own mood and temperament.
Music can confer many benefits to autistic individuals. First among these is improved communication. Parents and caregivers have found that autistic children are able to communicate and express themselves much better through music than any other forms of expression. This can sometimes be in the form of singing, as an alternative to speech.
Music can also improve a child's behavior, as it has a calming effect on them. This has been shown to result in reduced anxiety, aggression, and tension. This connection is rooted in neuroscience, where hearing and motor functions are controlled in the same parts of the brain. While autistic kids experience external stimulus differently from most people, music therapy trains them to separate and focus on specific stimuli, which can even improve the way they communicate verbally.
Music is also a multi-sensory activity, which simultaneously requires one to listen, watch and touch a musical instrument, and this creates an opportunity to train and fine-tune their motor skills.
Finally, music can help in social interaction, as children communicate through passing and sharing musical instruments, listening and singing.
Music is an engaging and enjoyable activity that can bring about positive behavioral changes over a long period of prolonged music therapy sessions. Just like most other forms of play learning, music therapy for autistic children can be engaging without being tedious. It is an extremely effective way for parents to reach out and communicate with their autistic kids, even when nothing else can. Most of all, music is fun!
Always bear in mind that consistency is key, and perseverance with any particular therapy, including musical therapy, is vital to yielding good results.
If your child has benefitted from music therapy, we’d love to hear from you!
Curtis Dean writes on behalf of Sage Music School where they base lessons on the science and research of the psychology of learning. Their effective teaching methods create confident and capable students who enjoy the happiness of making music.
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