Music Therapy For Autism: What Exactly Is It?

Music Therapy For Autism What Exactly Is It

Autism is usually noticed within the first three years of a person’s life.

It affects the development of your verbal, cognitive, and social abilities and is a highly complex disability.

Autism usually affects the way individuals communicate with other people, and while there may be similarities in different cases of the disorder, it’s difficult to narrow down a specific sign of cause or symptom.

According to statistics, one in 68 Americans will have a form of Autism, and while it’s not something that you can outgrow, being diagnosed early ensures a better chance for treatment and a better way to cope with Autism moving forward.

Music has quickly become a tool used in Autism treatment because it is believed to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain as opposed to just one.

In the following article, we’ll take a look at how music therapy can help you cope with Autism.

What is music therapy for autism?

Child With Autism

Music therapy is a well-established and dependable way of using musical interaction to assist individuals with a range of cognitive and emotional challenges to improve their ability to function.

By interacting with children and adults on the autism spectrum, musical therapists can lower anxiety, build skills, and develop new communication skills.

However, it should be noted that musical therapy is not the same as musical instruction. So if your aim is to have your child’s vocal or instrumental skills enhanced, you’ll need to find a musical instructor instead.

Music therapy is said to help people with autism improve skills in areas such as communication, sensory issues, social skills, behavior, perceptual and motor skills, cognition, as well as self-determination and self-reliance.

So the therapist finds music experiences that strike a chord with a specific person making personal connections and building trust at the same time.

It is believed that music therapy can grant people who do not or can’t easily communicate a way of interacting and communicating.

Because instead of using words to communicate, they can rather use a range of musical activities such as playing instruments, singing, improvising, listening to music, and songwriting.

These activities enhance and encourage communication and social skills, such as making eye contact and taking turns.

So therapists can ultimately use these musical activities to teach autistic individuals new skills. This happens when you pair new skills with their own musical cues.

So once individuals have learned the skills, they no longer need the queues. Ultimately and gradually, the cues are phased out until the skills happen by themselves.

For a child or individual with ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, a music therapist may also write lyrics about a specific behavior, for example, turn-taking.

The therapist then sings the lyrics to the tune of a song that the child knows well, and the idea is that the Autistic child might be better able to focus on information that is sung as opposed to spoken.

What type of music is best for it?

Child With Autism Playing Piano

When a child is diagnosed with autism, their parents are often told by well-meaning people about how hard it will be for their child to accomplish everyday tasks.

However, very few parents are told about the things that the child will do as well as everyone else or possibly even better than others.

Music is one of those things. People with autism have enjoyment and understanding of music that is no different from anyone else’s; however, they are more likely to be superior in one musical area, discriminating between tones.

According to research, people with autism are more likely than the general population to have the gift of perfect pitch or some version of it.

When we refer to perfect pitch, it is the “ability to instantly and easily identify the pitch of the tone without the use of a reference tone.”

So when it comes to the type of music that is best suited to autistic individuals, it entirely depends on where your child or the individual falls in the spectrum.

So it is not so much as the type of music that should be played for autistic children but more so what kind of music will calm, inspire, and affect that specific autistic individual more than other types.

Singing or playing instruments have benefits for normal children but more so for autistic ones.

The piano is said to be one of the best instruments for autistic children to learn.

Although they may not speak as often or fluidly as others, when it comes to communication and using music to express themselves powerfully and artfully via musical instruments, autistic children can do it astoundingly.

Playing musical instruments is of great benefit to autistic children and individuals. It helps to develop motor skills and induce relaxation. So here are five instruments that should be considered for autistic individuals.

Ukulele

Playing Ukulele

Strumming strings on a ukulele helps to develop motor control, and it only has four strings as opposed to a full-sized guitar that has six strings.

It’s much easier to hold and won’t make horrible sounds if you hit a wrong note. They are also affordable with pricing prices ranging from $50 -$100.

Xylophone

This is another small and inexpensive instrument that also ranges from $50-$100. It helps children develop impulse control as well as hand-eye coordination.

Recorder

This instrument is inexpensive and easy to hold. It helps to develop motor skills and is great for helping individuals learn breathing control.

High-pitched notes can be a potential problem, but if it is harnessed, this is a good and inexpensive instrument.

Trumpet

This instrument provides great advantages for autistic individuals since it only contains three keys and also helps to develop breathing control. It also has an exclusive sound that appeals to children as well as adults.

Bongos

Hitting Bongos is a great way for kids to work off some energy and enjoy sound at the same time.

However, individuals and children who have a desire for more in-depth learning when playing these instruments will develop hand and eye coordination as well as motor skills.

Bongos help to develop a sense of movement, and they can be played sitting down or standing up.

How does music therapy help autism?

Music is being used as a tool in Autism therapy since it stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, rather than just one.

Therefore, therapists can use instruments or songs to support cognitive activity. Music is of great enjoyment and interest in autistic individuals.

Music also encourages interaction with others and communicative behavior, which is something that Autistic children find great difficulty doing.

Take a band example; it is obvious that the instruments must interact with one another; however, the player only needs to bond with the instrument at first.

For children dealing with Autism, communication with others poses a daily challenge, but by introducing a new instrument, the individual will bond with the object and then open up to others interacting with their instruments.

Our interpretation of music, both in sound and lyrics, can assist us in communicating better with each other.

For Autistic children, this means learning a new word from a song and understanding how to act in a social situation based on the messages that are expressed in the song.

Autism children don’t do well in a social setting, but small groups of children together may feel comfortable and confident enough to comment and sing-along with the songs.

It is believed that early intervention is key to helping autistic children.

If parents learn together with their Autistic children through gentle, fun activities, and noninvasive games, it creates a supportive environment where the entire family can learn and bond in a healthy way. 

Music therapy is used to help children relate to their parents and the rest of the family as well.

However, other family members may be invited to learn when children are more accustomed to one on one sessions.

Not only is music therapy beneficial to autistic children, but they are also beneficial to everyone.

These special sessions involve crucial communication building exercises that encourage relaxing playtime and motivation.

Most therapists will give children the chance to develop these skills by introducing one thing at a time, whether it be through listening, dancing, singing, or using your own sounds and instruments.

However, each program or class should offer patience as well as a conducive and safe learning environment.

Studies Conducted on the Effects of Music Therapy on Autistic Individuals

Playing Instruments

Music therapy is something that individuals of various ages and abilities can participate in.

Music therapy has always been used to support emotional, social, and cognitive development in various populations and is now being used to promote wellness and stress management, enhance memory, and also improve communication.

According to one 2004 study on The Journal of Music Therapy, music interventions used with children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder can help to improve social behavior and increase communication attempts via vocalizations, gestures, and vocabulary.

It is also helpful in increasing attention and focus, introducing society, and also improving body awareness and coordination.

There have been additional studies that found that children and adults with Autism respond well to music.

Often, the response is positive when little else is able to get their attention. So this makes music a potential therapeutic tool in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Social interaction

A 2009 study by Kim, Winkler Mangold found that Autistic children showed more emotional expression and social engagement during music therapy than at classes and play sessions without music.

Therefore these children responded to the therapist’s requests more frequently when music was used as opposed to sessions that did not include music.

Therefore a skilled therapist can use music to increase social skills and social interaction in Autistic children.

Tasks such as music and movement games, passing and sharing instruments as well as gathering around a central instrument and learning to listen to the songs are just a few ways that music therapy sessions can increase Autistic children’s interaction with others.

Behavior

In 2012, a study of 41 children with ASD over a ten-month period found that music therapy sessions appeared to improve overall behavior with significant improvements in inattentive behaviors.

The children in the study received hour-long sessions of music therapy once a week, and the conduct was monitored against a checklist of target behaviors aggression, noisiness, and restlessness.

More than half of this group improved by one or two points on the scale after these music therapy sessions.

Communication

Older Man And Granddaughter Playing Guitar

According to studies, up to 30% of children with ASD are non-verbal, and many low functioning children have difficulty following verbal commands and also have trouble understanding social awareness and body language.

A 2004 study found music to improve the mapping of sounds to actions by connecting the auditory and motor sections of the brain, which helps in understanding verbal commands.

So by pairing music with actions and repetitive training, you help to reinforce the brain pathways needed to speak.

Conclusion

Music has been used as a form of healing therapy from the days of Plato and Aristotle.

During the 20th Century, after World War I and II, musicians of various types from professionals to amateurs went to veterans hospitals around the country to play for thousands of veterans that were recovering from physical and emotional trauma from the war.

As you can see, musical therapy has been around for a long time, even if it wasn’t labeled as such.

In recent years, it has been discovered that music therapy is extremely beneficial to autistic children and individuals, helping them develop hand-eye coordination, motor skills as well as other skills that help them become more comfortable in society such as communication and social interaction skills.

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