Music makes this world a better place, but it can do more than make you dance and sing your worries away. In recent years, music therapy for autism has proved to be a powerful tool for enhancing the development of children on the spectrum.
Learning can and should be fun, and it’s exactly what your little one deserves. As a caregiver, you know how challenging it can be to understand your child’s needs. Once you do, however, it’s the most rewarding experience in the world. Let’s learn how music therapy can help you achieve that.
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Autism Therapies and Solutions
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy focuses on improving the expressiveness of inner emotional experiences and helping with body awareness. With its strong impact on emotions, it has been suggested that music, applied as music therapy, can help children with autism regulate stress so that they can calm down.
Music helps the body recover from states of tension. Some experts believe music therapy has a positive effect on:
- nervous system,
- cognitive functions,
- sensory processing issues.
Music therapists use particular melodies, rhythms, and sounds to help those with autism express feelings like anger or anxiety. The therapist aims to help regulate the autistic child’s states of tension.
Types of Music Therapy
There are two types of music therapy: active and receptive (passive).
Music therapy is not new at all. The impact music has on our minds and our bodies has been well-known for hundreds of years. Music therapists originally used the receptive form, where the patient listened to music.
Today, receptive music therapy is applied alongside or in combination with the active form, where the autistic child improvises with music and can express their feelings freely.
Benefits of Music Therapy for Autism
Various autism research studies show music therapy is beneficial for tackling challenging behaviors, reducing anxiety, and improving the child’s attention.
Research also shows that music therapy can improve:
- social interaction,
- attention, and
In different clinical studies, it has been found that there is a link between musical activities and learning outcomes. Here are some of the key benefits of music therapy for children on the spectrum:
- Emotional Expression and Regulation
Through music therapy, children with autism can learn to identify and express their feelings in a structured and enjoyable manner. As a result, they experience enhanced emotional regulation, reduced meltdowns, and an improved sense of inner calm.
- Cultivating Social Skills
Collaborative music-making experiences encourage social interaction among children with autism. Group sessions create opportunities for shared experiences and joint attention. As children synchronize their actions to the rhythm of music, they naturally develop their social skills.
- Enhancing Communication Skills
Children on the autism spectrum may face verbal communication challenges. Music therapy provides an alternative channel for self-expression and communication. Melodies, rhythms, and non-verbal cues become a means through which they convey their thoughts and feelings.
Music Therapy Activities for Autism
During a music therapy session, the music therapist reacts to the moving body of the child and their pitch. The therapist also utilizes several musical instruments.
The lengths of sessions vary. Sometimes, they last only a few minutes and become extended, depending on the child’s individuality.
Sessions can be one-on-one or in a group setting. There is also family-centered music therapy, where the whole family gets involved in the sessions. This approach aims to help the autistic child and the entire family unit to improve mental and physical health.
Music therapy should always be conducted by a well-educated music therapist with at least an undergraduate degree in music therapy and at least 1,200 hours of clinical training. Depending on the child’s situation, the therapist should formulate the goals for the child and discuss these with the parents.
The aims of the therapy program should be documented in writing to enable a long-term review of progress. Each music therapist will provide specific guidelines for each child’s therapy program.
How to Implement Music Therapy
Music therapy for autism has many practical applications across various settings. However, the three most important factors are:
- Individualized Approaches
Music therapy offers flexibility to tailor interventions to every child’s preferences and sensitivities. Because of that, therapists often work closely with parents to understand the child’s strengths and challenges.
- Incorporating Favorite Tunes
Familiar music can be a powerful tool for engaging children with autism. Incorporating their favorite songs into therapy sessions can motivate them and create a sense of comfort.
These special songs for music therapy can bridge the gap between the child’s comfort zone and the therapeutic environment.
- Progress Tracking
Measuring the impact of music therapy is essential for tracking progress. This ensures that the therapy remains effective and allows adjustments to be made as the child grows.
Research on Music Therapy for Autism
In a study from 2018, kids between 6 and 12 years old who got music therapy showed more enjoyment and confidence. They felt a sense of accomplishment, making them more sociable because they were proud of what they could do.
The study found that music can change how the brains of kids with autism work. Children with ASD have too much activity in their brains, making it hard for them to control what they do.
This study showed how music therapy helped children have better control. For example, it increases activity in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory (hippocampus).
Music therapy also helps with the part of the brain that controls alertness and activity (thalamus). Research showed that kids with autism could have better control over their awareness, leading to a more positive attitude in their daily lives.
On top of that, the study found increased activity in the frontal-motor region of the brain, showing that music helped kids with autism be more coordinated in everyday tasks like walking and drinking.
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Can You Use Music Therapy in Combination with ABA?
Parents who are interested in music therapy for their ASD child might have consulted many professionals before and may have tried other therapies with their child. They might have experience with ABA therapy.
It is believed by some experts that the calming influence of music therapy and its potential to reduce some challenging behaviors makes it a good intervention to use in combination with ABA therapy.
Finding Joy in Music and Movement
Music therapy is a helpful option for parents looking to ease their child’s sense of isolation and anxiety. This therapy connects musical activities with social and communication skills, and evidence suggests it may enhance spontaneous self-expression.
A good music therapist aims for the best care, ensuring each autistic child finds joy in music and movement. Therapists help kids express emotions like happiness, anger, grief, and anxiety, which could later assist them in handling these feelings in their daily lives.
Q: How does music therapy help autism?
A: Music therapy helps autistic children improve communication skills and social interaction and reduce anxiety. Musical activities and rhythm provide a playful and effective way for them to learn and express themselves, improving spontaneous self-expression and coping with emotions.
Q: What are some music therapy ideas for autism?
A: For music therapy in autism, engage the child by creating songs together during daily activities like making their bed or brushing their teeth. This promotes a playful and interactive way to improve engagement and communication skills.
Q: Can music therapy benefit adults with autism as well?
A: Music therapy can benefit adults with autism by promoting emotional expression, social interaction, and potentially improving overall well-being. It provides a creative and therapeutic outlet that can improve communication and connection.
Q: How can you use music therapy at home?
A: Parents can incorporate music therapy at home by creating a dedicated “music time” where they and their child play instruments together, sing along to songs, or explore rhythmic activities. This can be a fun way to enhance communication and emotional expression while fostering connection.
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The Short-term Effects of Music Therapy on Anxiety in Autistic Children, UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research IX
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Assessing the Impact of Music Therapy on Sensory Gating and Attention in Children With Autism: A Pilot and Feasibility Study. Journal of Music Therapy (2019)
Effectiveness of music therapy in children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Psychiatry. (2022)
Communication and Language Development of Young Children With Autism: A Review of Research in Music. Communication Disorders Quarterly (2017)
Development of vocal communication in children with autism spectrum disorder during improvisational music therapy, Nordic Journal of Music Therapy (2019)
Social outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorder: a review of music therapy outcomes, Patient Related Outcome Measures (2017)
Making music, making friends: Long-term music therapy with young adults with severe learning disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities
Music therapy for children with autism: investigating social behaviour through music. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. (2019)
Planning for Spontaneity: Music Therapy Session Preparation, Structure and Procedures, Lesley University, (2018)
Family-centred music therapy. Child Care Health Dev
Music therapy song repertoire for children with autism spectrum disorder: A descriptive analysis by treatment areas, song types, and presentation styles, The Arts in Psychotherapy