The Surprising Connection Between Music And Autism
There has been a vast amount of research showing that music has many benefits for children with autism. While autistic individuals are slower to develop speech communication skills, they are able to understand music equally well, if not better than individuals who do not have autism.
While autism can affect an individual to different degrees, music therapy is consistently beneficial across the entire spectrum of autism.
To be specific, autistic children have an enhanced ability to recognize pitch, memorize tunes, and map emotions onto musical pieces. In some specific individuals, they have been able to master playing the piano fluently even before they can speak complete sentences.
Other Benefits Of Music Therapy
- Increase vocalization and verbalization
- Enhance cognitive functions, such as attention and memory
- Enhance auditory processing
- Improve alertness, concentration, attention, and motivation
- Improve body awareness and coordination
- Help develop sensory-motor and perceptual-motor skills
- Improve fine-motor and gross-motor skills
- Enhance body awareness and coordination
- Help identify and appropriately express emotions
- Reduce negative and self-stimulatory behaviors
- Learn musical skills
- Improve independence.
Music therapists use a variety of musical activities to teach children with autism new skills and behaviors. Heres what you can expect from your childs music therapy session.
Why Music Therapy Might Be A Good Choice
Music therapy may help people with autism to improve skills in areas such as communication, social skills, sensory issues, behavior, cognition, perceptual/motor skills, and self-reliance or self-determination. The therapist finds music experiences that strike a chord with a particular person, making personal connections and building trust.
According to a meta-study that looked at outcomes, “Reported benefits included, but were not limited to increased appropriate social behavior increased attention to task increased vocalization, verbalization, gesture, and vocabulary comprehension increased communication and social skills enhanced body awareness and coordination improved self-care skills and reduced anxiety.” Another study suggests that family-centered music therapy can build stronger parent-child bonds.
People on the autism spectrum are often especially interested in and responsive to music. Because music is motivating and engaging, it may be used as a natural “reinforcer” for desired responses. Music therapy can also help those with sensory aversions to certain sounds to cope with sound sensitivities or individual differences in auditory processing.
If your child already seems to enjoy and respond to music, it may be worth your while to look into music therapy providers.
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Our Experience Of Music Therapy
I dont know what I was expecting from music therapy but I was surprised how beneficial it was for supporting speech and language development. The aim of the therapist is to match the childs spontaneous sounds to form co-created music. A supportive relationship is built up with the therapist over a series of sessions. A good therapist should be adapting to the childs needs and strengthening the childs abilities to make choices and independently lead the shared music making.
As a child becomes more familiar with the environment and therapist they should be relaxed and enjoying the sessions. This enjoyment along with use of sounds helps to encourage and stimulate language. This process certainly worked well for my boys.
A very interesting instrument that my son was able to use with his music therapist was the Musii. The Musii is a multi sensory interactive inflatable, it was developed so that anyone of any ability can play it. It is a sensory inflatable that creates different colour and sounds as it is pressed. It plays through a musical scale even with a very light touch touch. This multi sensory approach was great for my son who loved it.
My eldest accessed music therapy through a specialist setting. My youngest we used MusicSpace in Bristol who I highly recommend.
How To Prepare Music Lessons
A couple of things must take place before planning music lessons. First, it is important to get to know students with ASD and consider them as individuals. This involves reading their Individualized Education Programs and 504 Plans. Its most helpful to take notes of these students strengths and needs. As an elementary teacher, I used an Excel spreadsheet with a different tab for each general classroom teacher, and kept short, updated notes on students with special needs. Index cards or other organization systems would work great too. With this information, you can keep track of student progress, give feedback to parents and important personnel, and provide valuable information in IEP meetings.
Before and while planning lessons, it is important to keep in touch with and learn from your school community. This includes the special education teacher, paraprofessionals/aids, parent/guardian, general education teacher, principal, and school counselor. With their different experiences and training, these people can provide unique perspectives on students, information about the childrens strengths and needs, and suggestions for how to work with individual students.
Since students with ASD have sensory sensitivities and music is multisensory in nature, I like to approach lesson adaptations based on sensory needs. Below are ideas of adaptations categorized by their impact on the three music senses.
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What Is Sensory Integration
Sensory integration or sensory processing is the way in which we gather and process information about the world around us through our senses. Sensory integration isnt just our sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, or sound, but also how our body is oriented and moves in space.
- The tactile system: This system is responsible for recognizing touch sensations, like pressure or temperature, through the skin.
- The proprioceptive system: This system is responsible for informing us of where we are in space through our muscles and joints.
- The vestibular system: This system is composed of a complex organ in the ear, responsible for determining our movement and balance.
Sensory integration dysfunction can look different for everyone.
For example, people who have sensory modulation challenges may experience an underreaction or overreaction to sensory input, while people with sensory discrimination challenges may have trouble distinguishing between senses. And in people with sensory-based motor challenges, it can be difficult to move or stabilize the body.
However, while research on sensory integration therapy for ASD does exist, its still quite limited.
Ultimately, while ASI specifically may be a helpful option for certain people with ASD, more research is needed.
Make Music For The Ears
Using a sound panel can encourage proper interaction between motion and sound. We can encourage an individual to mimic a sound with the reward of providing the sound with touch or a switch. Sound, such as synthesized or background music, can also provide a filter for calming, organizing, or modulating sensory information. In addition, an integrative listening system can be used to stimulate brain waves that are more conducive to interaction and attention.
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Who Conducts Sensory Integration Therapy
Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who use a variety of therapeutic approaches to help people perform their daily tasks, both inside and outside of the home.
Occupational therapists play a huge role in helping people especially those with autism spectrum disorder manage sensory symptoms. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association , some of the people who can benefit the most from occupational therapy include:
- Infants and toddlers: For infants and toddlers, occupational therapy can improve the different aspects of early life, such as playtime, sleep, meals, and socialization.
- School-age children: For school-age children, occupational therapy can help improve things, such as routines, self-care, academics, socialization, and focus.
- Adolescents: For adolescents, occupational therapy can also help improve additional skills that are important to young adults, such as driving, independence, and even relationships.
- Adults of any age: For adults of any age, especially those with late diagnoses, occupational therapy can improve school, work, leisure, and relationship skills.
Sensory integration therapy is performed by specially trained occupational therapists to not only help improve immediate sensory symptoms, but also help manage long-term symptoms.
Therapy Recommendations To Include Music For Speech Development
The recommendation from these studies is to expose children with autism to classical, symphonic or generally instrumental music that is harmonious and pleasant, rather than modified music. Modified music, whether or not it is harmonious, often lacks the melody, rhythm, and richness which is the characteristic of symphonic music.
In addition to listening to music at the end of a Mendability exercise session, Mendability recommends that a good therapy program should include music at bedtime to help a child with autism relax and slow down their racing thoughts.
Search the internet for relaxing classical music.
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How Music Therapy Can Help People With Autism
Music therapy is a well-established method to bring together autism and music. At Lexington Services, we utilize musical engagement to assist our members with a broad variety of cognitive and emotional issues to improve their capacity to function. There really isnt any risk of using music for autism therapy. We provide expert musical therapists who know how to best use sensory music for autism.
This autism therapy can enhance someones abilities, reduce anxiety, and even create new communication skills by engaging with adults and children on the autism spectrum.
Its crucial to understand that music therapy is not the same as musical training. If you want your loved one to develop vocal or instrumental talents, youll need to locate a teacher instead of or in addition to a music therapist. Cultivating autism and music can serve as a beneficial way to treat daily stressors.
Who is Your Music Therapist?
A practicing music therapist has a bachelors degree in music therapy from one of around 70 AMTA-recognized university programs. Certain applicants have further education.
Along with the academic requirements, the bachelors degree requires 1200 hours of clinical training, including a supervised internship. Music therapy graduate degrees place a focus on advanced clinical practice and research.
Individuals who have earned a bachelors degree in music therapy are eligible to sit for the national board certification exam and acquire the title MT-BC
Why Its a Great Option
Establish Stronger Family Bonds
Family-centered music therapy can help improve communication between children on the spectrum and their family members by teaching verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Besides, playing instruments or listening to music together promotes the feeling of closeness and understanding among family members.
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What Resources Are There To Help With Sensory Issues
- Learn how occupational therapy can help people with autism learn to better process sensory input in everyday environments.
- Learn how feeding therapy can address aversions to tastes and food textures, as well as under- and over-sensitivities that can hamper chewing and swallowing.
- Learn how speech therapy can use sensitivity-reducing and sensory-stimulating activities to improve speech, swallowing and related muscle movements.
- Learn how cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage anxiety and gradually increase tolerance to overwhelming sensory experiences.
- View Autism Speaks Autism-Friendly Events Calendar for a list of sensory-friendly events in your area
- Learn about sensory processing disorder and potential accommodations at work.
Stimulate The Eyes With Soft Sights
Lets take a look at using an interactive bubble tube to encourage mindfulness, focus and attention. Providing a switch and encouraging its use can teach a cause and effect response. Of course, the switch can be used to stim , or it can be set to provide a visual reward upon a certain action. For example, if a child is verbal, we can request the child to name a color out loud, and then the switch is provided to change to that color. For a non-verbal child, the bubble tube itself may encourage eye contact, which can be a great precursor to eye contact with other people.
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Why Might Music Therapy Be A Good Choice For Your Child
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.
Music Therapy Intervention Techniques
The most commonly used intervention techniques in music therapy include:
- Listening to live or recorded music
- Interactive educational activities
- Composition and songwriting
The goal of these techniques is to strengthen different skills in the therapeutic context to then gradually transfer them to other parts of daily life.
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Sensory Activities For Kids With Autism
Sensory activities for kids with autism are important to help regulate the sensory system. Sensory activities for autism include fine motor and gross motor activities.They are also fun and can promote increase learning, communication and interaction. Read about the 21 benefits of sensory play for autism in this post. For the best autism activities for parents, teachers and therapists, get my autism activities workbook bundle.
Who May Benefit From Sensory Integration Therapy
Most of the available research on sensory integration therapy focuses on autistic children, so theres limited research on the benefits of sensory integration therapy outside of this population.
A 2020 report from The National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice found that ASI is primarily used in autistic children ages 3 to 11.
In younger autistic children, ASI focuses specifically on helping to improve communication, cognition, and self-development, according to the report. It may also be used to help autistic adolescents improve their social, behavioral, and motor skills.
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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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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.
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.
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Using Music At Home With Your Child
The best thing to do is expose young children to lots of different types of music. Different musical styles and sounds are important to see what preferences they have. But remember most of us like different music depending on our mood and our preferences change over time.
At about 2.5 years old my son would get very upset when I sang nursery rhymes to him. I assumed he didnt like my tone deaf singing voice. Then he started to get upset with singing at nursery too. It took a while for me to figure it out. His distress was because he knew he was supposed to be joining in. The problem was he didnt know how.
My son loves music, he did as a baby and does now. I found his reaction to nursery rhymes very odd. He now has a better language understanding and can follow more of the rhymes. It is clear to me now that the issue was understanding. I wish I had realised this earlier as there is so much I could have done to make it easier for him to join in. I started early with visuals for my youngest and it does make a big difference.
Here are some of our favourite musical activities to do at home.