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Autism and a School Concert: Here’s What You Must Consider

December 11, 2023

A fun part of children attending school for parents can be the school concert. When your child is musically inclined, or if they just love music in general, they can have fun with the concerts around the holidays and the end of the school year. But with autism, school concerts can take on a different meaning.

Some children on the autism spectrum are sensitive to sound, and these concerts can end up not being fun for them, especially in loud auditoriums. So what should we, as parents, do to help our autistic children when attending a school concert?

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School Concert and Autism Challenges

When my younger son was in preschool, his class would attend the local high school for the annual holiday concert. For most of the kids in this inclusive class, it was easy for them to sit and listen to the high school band and choir sing and play their instruments.

However, special accommodations had to be made for my son to attend this concert with his classmates.

It should be noted that my son absolutely loves music. He dances and tries to sing along to the Beatles and themes from his favorite television shows. I’ve even seen him sway and bop his head to classical music.

But every one of these musical interactions takes place in an area where the volume of the music can easily be controlled so it doesn’t become overwhelming. That is not the case at school concerts.

So what do you do when you have a child who loves music but cannot truly appreciate the concerts?

Ways Parents Can Help

In my son’s case, we worked out a deal with the preschool and high school for my wife or me to attend the concert with him. I was able to help keep him still in his seat.

When the loud sound got too much for him, I was allowed to take him out of the auditorium and into the cafeteria so that he could regulate himself before returning to our seats. 

Everyone involved was understanding and accommodating. However, that won’t always be the case.

If your child is like mine and is sensitive to loud sounds, ear defenders are an excellent choice. Some headphones will help lessen the sound so they aren’t overwhelmed and go into sensory overload.

Unfortunately, my wife and I didn’t think of this until after my son had moved from preschool to primary school. This was during Covid lockdowns, and his classes have not returned to school concerts yet.

It is also a good idea to sit near the aisle to quickly exit if necessary. As I mentioned, this allowed easy access out of the auditorium and into the cafeteria.

It will also help you minimize distractions from the concert as the students performing deserve to have the attention on them, and their parents won’t be distracted while watching their kids perform.


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Autistic Kids Performing

What if your child wants to perform in a concert? How do you help them achieve their dream? Most schools, at least in the United States, have educational music programs that allow students with special needs to be included. This applies to my older son.

While he and his brother are both on the spectrum, my older son’s needs are more social and emotional rather than physical and sensory. Like his brother, he is a big music fan, but his joy comes from playing it just as much as listening to it.

In 2022, he learned guitar through classes as part of his education. He and other students from these classes were allowed to perform at the concert. While his school is smaller than a typical high school, he still took the stage with his classmates and teacher and was allowed to perform for family in attendance.

It was a proud moment because you could see the joy on his face as he performed. This may not work for all students and all school concerts.

Music Therapy For Autism

Music is an art form and one that many kids can enjoy, but it can be difficult for some students on the autism spectrum to appreciate school concerts. However, art therapy, specifically music therapy, could play a role in helping students relate.

These therapies can help the kids by soothing them and helping them understand when to sit still in school and concerts to ensure they don’t get distracted from the performance.

A therapist playing guitar with children during music therapy
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-school-concert/

Having Fun At Concerts

School concerts can be a lot of fun, especially if your child loves music, but they may lead to some less-than-fun moments for some kids on the autism spectrum.

However, there are ways for parents to step in and help their kids appreciate the hard work of their fellow students. It may require a parent’s attendance at the concert, but it can still be a fun way for your kids to be included around the holidays or toward the end of the school year.

FAQs

Q: Can autistic people go to concerts?

A: Autistic people can go to concerts if they feel comfortable doing so. Some may find certain aspects challenging, like loud noises or crowds, so it’s important to consider their preferences and needs when planning such activities.

Q: Can autistic people go to music festivals?

A: Yes, autistic people can go to music festivals, but for some with conditions like autism, ADHD, or PTSD, the loud music and crowded environments may be overwhelming and trigger anxiety or other cognitive symptoms. It can be a challenging experience for individuals with these conditions.

Q: How does music affect autistic children?

A: Music can help autistic children by providing calming sensory input in a non-threatening way. The rhythm of music can soothe and relax them, making it an effective tool for processing and coping.

Q: What kind of music is best for autism?

A: There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as individuals with autism may have different preferences. Some find calm and soothing music helpful, while others may prefer music tailored to their specific interests or sensory needs.

Q: Can music calm an autistic child?

A: Music can help calm a child with autism. It can also motivate them to behave better, and activities like creative dance can boost their confidence and allow them to express themselves.

References:

Art Therapy and Autism: Overview and Recommendations
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07421656.2009.10129616

Art therapy with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A review of clinical case descriptions on ‘what works’
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197455614001087 

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