In my ongoing postings of alternative therapies to enhance the lives of children with autism, I would be remiss if I didn’t include music therapy.
Everyone knows that music is a universal language and for children on the autism spectrum who have barriers to communication and social interaction, music is especially well-suited to their needs. Because it captures and helps maintain attention, music serves as a great motivator and helps reinforce desired responses, assisting a child to reduce negative and/or self-stimulatory responses and increase participation in socially accepted ways.
In non-verbal children, music therapy allows them to communicate without language, fostering creative self-expression. Because music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain, it can stimulate cognitive functioning and may lead to the development of verbal communication, speech and language skills.
The rhythmic component of music is an organizing force in the sensory systems of individuals diagnosed with autism. As a result, auditory processing and other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, gross and fine motor skills can be successfully addressed through music therapy.
Listening to music, taking turns and playing together all impart social skills in a safe and fun environment. In my personal experience, social skill classes never worked for my son because they weren’t organized around a shared activity. Having children come together around a mutual interest to help enhance social skills would have been a much better route.
I never formally engaged a music therapist for my son, but music has been a lifeline for him and the surest way to bring him comfort.
When he was a toddler and a meltdown began, I once grabbed a big drum and set it in front of him. He started hitting it instead of himself and his eyes grew wide with excitement and joy that he was making music. Soon after, it became my go-to strategy.
In elementary school, he tumbled to the fact that is he is a synesthete — a person who sees music as colors. He started drawing music as he listened to it, giving expression to the colors and textures of the tones and feeling proud that autism had given him that ability. In middle school, he used music to initiate conversations with other kids. And now at the age of fifteen, his vast knowledge of music has landed him a gig writing album reviews for a local radio station.
However you incorporate music into your child’s life, you may soon realize that you are bringing healing and comfort and possibly planting seeds for future endeavors.