The disorder called Autism is a complex developmental disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviors. These symptoms appear in the first 3 years of a child’s life. In addition to these symptoms, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can cause intellectual disabilities, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Although there are many challenges with autism, some children with ASD have excellent visual, music, math and art skills.
What is Music Therapy?
I am often asked the question, “What is Music Autism Therapy?” This might occur at a professional event, social event or even chatting with someone in line at the store. If I just gave the following answer, most people would be confused: “Music Therapy is a research-based health care profession that uses music to help clients reach their therapeutic goals.” Wait! What exactly does that mean? Let’s break it down.
“Research based” points to the fact that standardized research on the effectiveness of music therapy is being done at many schools, hospitals and institutions throughout the world.
“Health care profession” means that music therapy is used to address various medical, psychological and developmental goals, and as a profession, it is similar to fields such as physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.
“Uses music to help clients reach their therapeutic goals,” means that music therapists are helping clients work on measurable goals that typically are found on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an Individualized Transition Plan (ITP). For example, a music therapist working with a child with autism might be addressing a social skill goal of improved turn taking. The music therapist can use musical activities that include turn taking with an instrument in order to address this goal in a fun and motivating way.
Autism and music therapy
Music autism therapy uses music interventions to help clients learn and improve developmental skills such as speech/communication, motor, behavioral and social skills. Research on the benefits of music therapy with children with autism has demonstrated the following:
- Increased attention
- Improved behavior
- Decreased self-stimulation
- Enhanced auditory processing
- Improved cognitive functioning
- Decreased agitation
- Increased socialization
- Improved verbal skills
The literature shows that most children with ASD respond positively to music. In addition, kids with ASD often show a heightened interest and response to music. It is for these reasons that music autism therapy should be considered when deciding on what course of autism therapy to take.
What Do Music Therapists Do?
Music therapists typically start with an initial consultation with the parents in order to learn more about the child’s strengths and challenges. For school-aged children, a music therapist usually reviews their IEP and connects with the team of educators and therapists who work with the child. A music therapist will design a treatment plan with therapeutic goals after observing the child and assessing their behavioral, emotional, psychosocial, cognitive, academic, communication, perception, sensory-motor and musical skills. From here the work and the play begins and the music therapist will use musical interventions to address the treatment plan goals.
Music therapists will continue to adapt their approach to the strengths and challenges of the child and will document client responses, conduct ongoing evaluations of progress, and make recommendations. Music therapists will collaborate and consult with the parents and autism therapy team members so that others can generalize the gains achieved in music therapy. Music therapists can also offer excellent music-based special education resources to the treatment team.
To learn about other special education resources you can visit our website to learn how teachers, parents and professionals can assist your child with getting the services they deserve.