Many children with autism respond well to music, which is why music therapy is often an effective way to treat autism symptoms. Music therapy involves using music to encourage or stimulate positive human responses or behavior, and it can be used to address social, cognitive, behavioral, social, language, and psychological issues. Since most people respond to music in some way, music therapy is often effective for children with autism, offering a non-threatening environment where children can learn new methods of communication. It also promotes learning, relaxation, self-expression, and relatedness while simultaneously addressing multiple developmental issues.
Music Therapy: The Benefits for Children with Autism
How can music therapy benefit children with autism? Some of the benefits of music therapy may include:
- Encourages Speaking – By adding consonant-vowel sounds and syllable sounds to music, music therapy may help encourage speaking while increasing language skills.
- Improves Language Comprehension – Playing songs related to specific activities may improve language comprehension and help children learn the meanings of words.
- Builds Social Skills – Music therapy may foster two-way communication, encourage conversation, and promote peer interaction.
- Reduces Problems with Monotonic Speech – Singing provides examples of speech flows, rhyming, and word pronunciation, which may reduce problems with monotonic speech in children with autism.
- Addresses Sensory Issues – Since music stimulates the senses, it addresses sensory issues, focusing attention and helping to redirect self-stimulating behaviors towards behaviors considered socially appropriate.
- Promotions Emotional Responses and Self-Expression – Music gives children with autism the chance to move, dance, sing, or make noise as a method of expressing emotions.
- Stimulates Cognitive Function – Both hemispheres of the brain are used to process music, which allows music therapy to stimulate cognitive function.
Music Therapy Activities and Ideas
Music therapy activities can be used as a part of a music therapy program or in other therapy sessions, such as applied behavior analysis therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy.
- Use Instruments to Create Music – Creating music using instruments not only provides emotional fulfillment, it stimulates the senses and may encourage speech. For example, playing a harmonica may help a child with autism learn to create sounds using the tongue, mouth, and throat, an awareness that may promote speech skills.
- Dancing with Music – Moving or dancing to the music allows children with autism to express emotions and may help reduce self-stimulatory behavior. Allow children to move or dance in their own way, coming up with their own methods of self-expression. Dancing with the music may also create more body awareness and help encourage coordination skills.
- Teaching Rhythm Patterns – While singing or listening to songs, have children mimic hand gestures or clapping to the rhythm of the song. This teaches children the patterns of the music, and learning simple rhythmic patterns may help to increase a child with autisms’ focus and memory. Over time, introduce complex rhythms as children become more comfortable with simple rhythms. Introducing drums or other percussion instruments may also be fun when teaching rhythm patterns.
- Musical Questions – Have children listen to a musical sound or phrase, and then ask questions to have them explain what they have heard. This may help children with autism put sounds into their appropriate context while reducing fear-induced sensory issues and self-stimulatory behavior.
Music therapy provides an enjoyable way for children with autism to learn communication and social skills, and it has proven effective at improving autism symptoms in both children and adults. Adding music therapy to other forms of therapy for children with autism may improve symptoms while enhancing the results of other therapies.