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Music Therapy And Autism

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Why Might Music Therapy Be A Good Choice For Your Child

Music Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

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.

The Benefits Of Music Therapy For Kids With Autism

by Curtis DeanFebruary 18, 2019

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.

Benefits Of Music Therapy

Numerous research studies have shown the immense benefits that music therapy has for children with autism.

Music can rewire the brains of children with autism and improve their neural connections, helping them reduce undesirable behaviors and enhance social and other skills. Whats more, studies have indicated that interactive activities involving music have more effect on autistic children than activities that dont involve music.

Below, we list the main benefits of music therapy on children with autism.

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Mert Treatment For Autism In Dallas

Early diagnosis and intervention are most helpful and can help improve social skills, behavior, and language. Children rarely outgrow Autism, however, they can learn to function very well. There are several therapies that can help, and the earlier, the better. Its important to find a medical team that can assist on many levels. After all, your child has tremendous potential if you could only unlock it.

Here at the Brain Treatment Center Dallas, Dr. Miller and his staff offer MeRT treatment for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder who are five years and older. We care about every child and hold them in the highest regard. Thats why we ensure each child has the best possible experience during treatment. Fortunately, MeRT is drug-free, non-invasive, and gentle, which makes it much more comfortable for a child on the autism spectrum.

MeRT is a unique and improved version of TMS , is a much more individualized approach to brain modulation, and is tailored to the patients needs based on frequency, location, and power used. TMS modulates the brains electrical activity by using magnetic fields which pass through the scalp from an electromagnetic coil. However, it is important to note that TMS is a generalized approach to neuromodulation because it can only target a single location in the brain with a single frequency.

Characteristics Of Excluded Studies

Music Therapy : Another Path to Learning and Communication for Children ...
Not RCT or CCT Not intervention study
Not RCT or CCT Not ASD
Not RCT or CCT Not ASD

MT music therapy AIT auditory integration training RCT randomised controlled trial CCT controlled clinical trial ASD autism spectrum disorder ABA, ABAB, AB type of trial where interventions A and B are given in this order ABCA, ABACA type of trial where interventions A, B, and C are given in this order

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How To Find A Board Certified Music Therapist

Music therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association approved college and university program complete a minimum of 1,200 hours of clinical training and pass a national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists to obtain the credential required for professional practice, Music Therapist-Board Certified .

Some music therapists work in school settings as a related service on a child’s Individual Education Plan , either hired or contracted by a school district. Others have private practices or work for agencies that specialize in treatment for individuals with developmental disabilities. Some states fund music therapy services through Medicaid Waivers or other state programs. Private health insurance reimbursement usually requires pre-approval on a case-by-case basis.

Who Practices Music Therapy

Music therapy is practiced by licensed, board-certified music therapists who have obtained the following qualifications:

  • Bachelors degree or higher from a college or university program approved by an American Music Therapy Association
  • Successfully completed national examination by the Certification Board for Music Therapists
  • A minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised clinical work through internship programs.

Music therapists have an excellent understanding of how listening to certain types of music, playing an instrument, or participating in interactive activities like singing or dancing can change reactions in the brain and influence emotions and behaviors.

Music therapists are typically part of a multidisciplinary team where they work together with other professionals to ensure that the therapeutic goals are being achieved.

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Description Of The Condition

Autism spectrum disorder , as defined by the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th edition , and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition , is considered to be a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that is defined and diagnosed behaviourally, and usually manifests in early childhood persisting throughout life.

The clinical picture varies because individuals have different levels of ability, from profound learning disability to a spiky cognitive profile where superior skills are present in some areas of functioning. At the highfunctioning end of the autism spectrum is a condition known as Asperger’s syndrome, with the same fundamental core impairments as autism but also some differences in language development, motor skills, and originality of thought with the changes in DSM5, Asperger’s syndrome was merged into the single diagnostic category of ASD . Recent prevalence estimates for autism spectrum conditions vary according to factors such as method of case identification, age range, or standardisation of diagnostic measures, and range from 60 to 157 children per 10,000 , suggesting much higher prevalence rates than estimates from older studies .

Summary Of Main Results

Music Therapy for Autism

Using the GRADE system , we rated the quality of the evidence as ‘moderate’ for four outcomes and ‘low’ for three outcomes included in the Table 1. Even with Bonferroni correction, which is known to be overly conservative when outcomes are correlated, all primary outcomes that showed significant effects remained statistically significant . Therefore, alpha error accumulation can be excluded as a source of error.

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What Does A Music Therapist Do For People With Autism

After assessing the strengths and needs of each person, music therapists develop a treatment plan with goals and objectives and then provide appropriate treatment. Music therapists work with both individuals and in small groups, using a variety of music and techniques. A good music therapist should be able to develop strategies that can be implemented at home or at school.

Katie Hook Ma Eds Bcba Lba

Regional Director of Clinical Operations for Nashville

Katie Hook, M.A., Ed.S., BCBA, LBA, is the Regional Director of Clinical Operations for Nashville. Katie began her career as a school psychologist and specialized in conducting special education evaluations for students with autism. Through this experience, she developed a passion for helping children with ASD and decided to become a BCBA to better serve children, families, and teachers. She has supported children and families in a variety of settings including home-based, school-based, and clinic-based services. In her free time Katie enjoys a good cup of coffee, paddle boarding, and playing with her dog, Millie.

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Helping Everyone Soar Higher Through Music

The Ascending Scales program at the Chattanooga Autism Center helps individuals with autism and other disabilities access music in a way that is most beneficial to them. We specialize in using an individualized approach to music in order to allow anyone, regardless of ability, to make, enjoy, and ultimately benefit from their interactions with music.

How The Intervention Might Work

The Amazing Benefits of Music Therapy for Autistic Individuals ...

The processes that occur within musical interaction may help people with ASD to develop communication skills and the capacity for social interaction. Musical interaction in music therapy, in particular musical improvisation, can be understood and described as a nonverbal and preverbal language that enables verbal people to access preverbal experiences, enables nonverbal people to interact communicatively without words, and enables all to engage on a more emotional, relationshiporiented level than may be accessible through verbal language . Listening to music within music therapy also involves an interactive process that often includes selecting music that is meaningful for the person and, where possible, reflecting on personal issues related to the music or associations brought up by the music. For those with verbal abilities, verbal reflection on the musical processes is often an important part of music therapy .

The potential for predictability and anticipation brought about by musical structures is an element also used in behavioural approaches where music is utilised as a stimulus facilitating the perception and production of speech and language and enhancing communication skills. Another rationale for using music in this way is the increased attention and enjoyment observed in individuals when presented with musical as opposed to verbal stimuli .

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How Is Music Therapy Used For Kids With Autism

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, they can improve their control on their own mood and temperament.

What Do Music Therapists Do

Music therapists use qualification and clinical training to become trained professionals. They help people or individuals with a disorder treated with music therapy. They accept referrals of the client and observe their behavior and interactions. They help clients assess their emotional, behavioral, psycho-social, academic, cognitive, language, communication, perceptual, sensory, motor, and musical skills.

The therapist designs realistic and targeted goals according to their clients needs. Therapists implement individualized music therapy programs with different procedures, strategies, and interventions to develop necessary skills. To live quality of life, people with autism need essential skills such as social and communication skills.

A skilled music therapist documents everything, including their client responses, progress of ongoing evaluation, and performance.

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Music Therapy For Autistic People

Review question

We reviewed the evidence about the effect of music therapy for autistic people. We compared results from people receiving music therapy with results from people receiving a similar therapy without music , standard care or no therapy at all.


Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects how people perceive the world around them, and how they communicate with and relate to others. Thus, social interaction and social communication are among the central areas of difficulty for autistic people. Music therapy uses music experiences and the relationships that develop through them to enable people to relate to others, to communicate, and to share their feelings. In this way, music therapy addresses some of the core problems of autistic people. Music therapy has been applied in autism since the early 1950s. Its availability to autistic people varies across countries and settings. The application of music therapy requires specialised academic and clinical training. This helps therapists in tailoring the intervention to the specific needs of the person. We wanted to investigate whether music therapy helps autistic people compared with other options.

Search date

The evidence is current to August 2021.

Study characteristics

Key results

Quality of the evidence

To review the effects of music therapy, or music therapy added to standard care, for autistic people.

How Music Therapy For Autism Can Help Your Child On The Spectrum

Music therapy for children on the autism spectrum at Anglia Ruskin University

Music has a strong effect on our mind. Music can work like a bridge of communication. This makes music therapy suitable for treating the particularities of many autistic children.

However, due to limited information, parents of children with autism spectrum disorder have many questions. Does music therapy simply mean singing with my autistic child? Does it entail my child listening to music? Is there active involvement through playing musical instruments? Does my child need to be musical? Is music therapy something new? Where can I find music therapy for autism near me?

These questions are enough to make your head spin! Understandably, parents of children with autism who hear about music therapy are unlikely to know what happens during a music therapy session. After doing some research, parents will then discover there is a variety of different types of music therapy to consider. And, to make matters more confusing, there is not a common definition of music therapy that is accepted by everyone. If parents have tried other therapies before and consulted many different doctors, experts, teachers, and teaching assistants, it might be hard for them to believe that music will be helpful for their autistic child.

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What Is Music Therapy

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as an evidence-based discipline that merges research with creative, emotional, and unique musical experiences for health treatment and educational objectives.

Music therapy is used in many health fields, including autism. A credentialed therapist does an initial assessment, then develops a program and meets regularly with the autistic person for musical activities.

The session usually starts with the therapist playing music, then having the client pick an instrument and join in. The therapist works with the person at their level, focusing on bringing out inherent talents and expression, rather than fixing any behaviors.

The Music-Play Project at Florida State University and the Artism Project have both taken this process one step further. The programs have put autistic people together in ensembles to create their own improvisational music, sometimes in collaboration with professional musicians.

Playing music with another person can help build self-confidence in some autistic people, especially those with nonverbal autism. Music therapy can also help build:

  • personal expression
  • the ability to share and take turns

To see how music therapy works, you can see this video in which therapist Ryan Judd, out of Exeter, New Hampshire, plays instruments alongside Elliot, an autistic adult. You can also watch Judds strategic approach below with autistic and blind adult Brandon.

Children Prefer Consonant And Harmonious Music

One of the most interesting conclusions was comparing healthy children to severely autistic children to find that there was no difference in their musical preference. All children showed a preference for consonant and harmonious music.

A study using fMRI observed that different parts of the brain were used to process pleasant music vs. distorted, modified or reversed music . Pleasant music triggered activity in the core parts of the brain that participate in the production and release of dopamine. Dopamine is involved in controlling the flow of information in the brain, and in memory, motivation, pleasure, and movement.

The auditory cortex was also considerably more involved when pleasant music was played to the children with autism.

You can see that pleasant music, because of its impact on cognition, motivation and auditory processing would have benefits for the person with autism who is trying to learn to speak.

With Mendability we conclude many of our protocols by listening to music for a minute or two, to anchor the development prompted by the exercise.

Music was also shown in a recent study to help with attention, which would help children with attention issues to complete their homework.

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The Orff And Nordoff/robbins Approaches

Parents of children with autism might hear about the Orff music therapy approach and Orff music instruments. These are percussion instruments such as drums and triangles, which can be played without any previous musical knowledge, because music therapy is not about improving musical skills or perfecting the voice. Music therapy assumes that there is a level of musicality in every child and instead focuses on improving communication skills, social skills, and making it easier for the autistic child to build relationships with other people.

Parents might also read about the Nordoff/Robbins approach, with its aim of psychological development. Here the focus is more on the musical development than in the case of the Orff approach. Musical instruments and the voice of the child play an important role.

Risk Of Bias In Included Studies

Early Childhood Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder, Second ...

A visual representation of the included studies’ risk of bias for each domain, as specified below, is shown in Figure 2. Figure 3 provides a summary of the risk of bias results for each included study.

Risk of bias summary: review authors’ judgements about each risk of bias item for each included study.


Seven of the included studies stated explicitly that randomisation was used to assign participants to treatment groups . Methods of randomisation included using computergenerated random sequences for determining allocation to experimental condition , and a Latin Square for determining session order . In three studies, methods of randomisation and allocation concealment were not specified . The remaining study used the term ‘counterbalanced’ to describe an assignment that was either random or quasirandom, but intended to be random .


Four of the included studies were singleblind, with blinded assessors . In Kim 2008, some outcomes were coded by blinded assessors, while nongeneralised outcome measures and two of the measures assessing generalised skills were rated by the researcher and complemented by independent coders . In Thompson 2012a, measures were based on parent reports however, they contained internal safeguards to address bias as evidenced by high correlations with nonparent rated measures and high testretest correlations . No details about blinding of outcome assessment were reported in the other studies .

Incomplete outcome data

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