3 Ways Music Therapy Helps Autism
Can music therapy help Autism? The answer is a resounding YES!
When somebody asks me how music therapy helps someone with Autism I like to break it down to highlight the most common needs for someone who has Autism, which are:
- Sensory processing
- Social Skills
So how does music therapy help with these areas?
How Music Therapy Helps with Sensory Processing
For a child with Autism, sensory signals often get mixed up and are not understood correctly, which can be overwhelming for the child. What we perceive as the typical sound of the vacuum may sound like an erupting jet engine and be unbearable for the child. Same goes for sight, touch, taste/texture, or any of the senses.
The child often needs outside help to “organize” their sensory system to help it make sense and be comfortable. This often happens by helping the child use multiple senses in an organized way where the puzzle pieces fit together instead of being all mixed up.
Music and steady rhythm offer just that opportunity.
For example, playing a drum is a multi-sensory experience (AKA something that requires more than one of the senses). When a child plays a drum, he needs to see where the drum is, reach out to hit it, and hear the sound (sight, touch, and sound). When the child plays the drum to a steady beat, it not only uses multiple senses, but the steady rhythm helps the child’s brain synchronize (meaning the senses are working well together as opposed to separately) and make more sense of what they hear.
The music is predictable, they have control over it, and it teaches their brain to organize the sensory system.
And that makes a huge difference.
How Music Therapy Helps with Social Skills
Individuals with Autism often have unique social tendencies. This may include deep interest in certain topics (I once met a great young man who could tell me the year every Disney movie was made), difficulty understanding puns or playful language, or difficulty reading facial expressions.
These differences don’t always interfere with day to day life in significant ways, but some can be a problem. For example, a student who can’t bear to have anyone else take a turn, an adult who consistently talks loudly out of turn, or a child who does not acknowledge anyone else in the room, can all lead to significant difficulties in day to day life.
Music Therapy can help develop these social skills through hands on experience.
Music Therapy Helps with Communication
Many children with Autism have delayed speech and language skills, and music therapy can be an enticing and effective way to develop language. Many kids are motivated by music, and some may begin to sing before they speak.
Some children may sing whole songs even if they can’t carry on a conversation. In cases like this the music therapist will help the child use music to help the child express their thoughts and ideas, then work toward the child being able to articulate these ideas without music. Or if a child struggles to get words out, the music therapist might simply leave off the last word of a phrase and encourage the child to fill it in.
This works because music is predictable, the child knows what’s coming next, and they don’t need to guess or try to figure out what to say. In contrast, typical conversations are constantly changing and the child may not be able to keep up and know what is “supposed” to come next. Music solves that problem and can help the child gain the skills and confidence needed to develop speech and language.
So through music, we can help them learn how to get the words out. Once the words start to flow, we can fade the music and it will be easier for the child to communicate with the world around them.
So does music therapy help Autism? Yes! Because music therapy has a direct connection to sensory integration, social skills, and communication, it has a big impact on helping a child feel more comfortable in their environment and make tremendous progress.