Can Music Therapy help my child with Autism?

"Music is the medicine of the mind" --John A Logan

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is the use of music to attain non-musical goals.  Where a physical therapist will use balls and bars, I use music as my tool to facilitate change.  The goals reached through MT are typically social, physical, or cognitive.
Research in Music Therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas: physical rehabilitation, facilitating movement, increasing motivation and engagement in treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an expressive outlet.

Why is Music Therapy especially therapeutic
for children with autism?

People with diagnoses on the autism spectrum often show a heightened interest and response to music, making it an excellent therapeutic tool to reach them.

Music is a very basic human response, spanning all degrees of ability. Music therapists are able to meet a client wherever he is and help him to grow from there.

And Music Therapy is fun!  Children are not usually aware that it is "therapy" and often look forward to the next session.

What goals can my child meet through Music Therapy?

Music therapy can be effective in addressing many typical characteristics of autism. 

I worked with a 2 year old boy of with autism who spent our first four sessions running in circles.  Then I found the right musical stimulation, and he became engaging and interactive with me in a way he was not with any of this other therapists.  His family saw a little boy playing and having fun without the self stimulation or aggression they saw on a normal day.  He would sit and attend for 45 minutes and then show frustration when the time was up. 

Social Goals:
  • Increase attention spanMusic is highly engaging and motivating and may be used as a natural reinforcer for desired responses.
  • Reduce negative or self-stimulatory responses - Music Therapy focuses on increasing participation in more appropriate and socially acceptable ways.
  • Interpersonal timing and reciprocity - Music Therapy accommodates and addresses the client's style of communication through shared play, turn-taking, listening and responding to another person.
  • Build confidence to attempt new tasks - Many people with autism have innate musical talents.  Music therapy provides an opportunity for clients to experience success in their areas of strength, while musical structure provides a predictable but malleable framework to build toward new objectives.
Verbal and Expressive Goals:
  • Self expression - Music therapy can enable those without language to communicate, participate and express themselves non-verbally.
  • Appropriate expression of emotion - Music therapy allows individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum the opportunity to develop identification and appropriate expression of their emotions.
  • Speech and language skills - Because music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain, music can stimulate cognitive functioning and may be used for remediation of some speech/language skills.
Physical Goals:
  • Gross motor skills - Children can develop their gross motor skills through dance and large, child-friendly drums and other percussion instruments.
  • Fine motor skills - Children can develop finer control and timing playing more complicated instruments, including tambourines, finger cymbals, and guitar.

Family Goals:
An individual’s growth through music therapy can improve the quality of life for the whole family.

  • Behavioral skills - Music therapy can address goals of reducing "bad" behavior, promoting social norms, and providing an acceptable emotional outletThis can help reduce stress and strain on other family members.  
  • Family involvement - The shared, equalizing experience of making music together can improve family cohesiveness, support, and coping skills.  Family members can also experience alternative ways to interact, socialize, and communicate with their loved ones. 
  • See your child in a "different light" - Participation in music therapy often allows family members to witness their child’s strengths, providing hope for the future and belief in the individual’s abilities.

How can I get started?

When you're ready, you can contact me to set up an appointment.  Typically our first meeting is a no-cost consultation where we discuss your child's condition, the goals you'd like him or her to pursue through music therapy, and get a sense for who I am as a therapist.

If you're not ready to call yet, I've compiled much more information about Music Therapy that you can review from the navigation bar on the left.  I'd recommend starting with What to Expect from a Music Therapist, and the more detailed Music Therapy and Autism pages.

Is There Research to Support Music Therapy for Individuals with Autism?

Yes!  You can find extensive research through peer-reviewed journals. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) maintains a research bibliography of select articles and publications for those interested in specific research examples.  There are also two peer-reviewed journals within the profession: the Journal of Music Therapy, and Music Therapy Perspectives