Music Therapy Benefits Individuals with Autism

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.

6 Responses to Music Therapy Benefits Individuals with Autism

  1. What a wonderful post and a wonderful son! You are an inspiration.

  2. Susan says:

    Many thanks, I’m touched…Susan Moffitt

  3. andrea banks says:

    Hi, I was wanting to use of this information for my Bachelor, but need to know who the Author is so I can reference & cite, and does this have copyright.
    Thanks Andrea

  4. Guest says:

    Thank you for this article. I am an ABA technician in a public elementary school, working this year with a wonderful child that has been given the opportunity to participate in a music therapy class. We petition each year to get music therapy for our classroom and out of the past five years we have been successful twice (this being the second year).

    This child is non-verbal and does have aggressive behaviors. He and I have been working really hard on building his communication skills, using all available forms of communication (PECs, ASL, SGD, as well as vocal imitation). I am very proud of him! He struggles to participate in small group (3-5 children) activities, becoming aggressive and non-compliant. We have also been working hard in this area using highly preferred re-enforcement and learned communication tactics to ask for breaks. This area of skill has also improved and he can participate most of the time for up to 15 minutes. EXCEPT during his music therapy. He can sit and participate for the whole half hour. It is amazing! He participates in the group, he remains engaged with minimal re-focus prompting, and he rarely requests a break.

    My reason for responding to this article is because I have just been made aware that my student’s guardian has just told us that he can no longer go to music therapy. I have not yet been told the reason behind this. So I am on-line today trying to find studies, articles, whatever may help him stay in this group. I am finding out that there are a lot of studies to back the benefits of music therapy but there are fees to get these copies of research. Unfortunately I cannot afford to buy many of these reports but thought you may be able to recommend one? Also a question for you as a parent/guardian, is it inappropriate for me to want to advocate for this child to continue music therapy even though it is the guardian’s demand to terminate? There has been an ongoing tug-of-war between this guardian and the SPED department for years regarding many different areas. I was aware of some of the (political) challenges in the case when assigned and personally I just enjoy working with the kids and stay out of the politics. I love my job and feel I’ve been able to appease all involved, until now.

    Again, thank you for sharing you and your son’s experiences.

    An ABA Tech

  5. I have recently begun to develop a modified approach to teaching mathematics after becoming aware of just how unreceptive many people were to learning mathematics. My new approach is something that I call ‘Mindfulness, Poetry, Music and Mathematics’. I also rcently took up yoga and meditation. It has been life transforming for me.

  6. Susan says:

    this is great to know. I’m going to check it out for my son who loves music, but is loathe to study math.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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