Benefits Of Music Therapy And Education For Autistic Children

Sep 6, 2019 by

Can Music Therapy Improve Language Skills In Autistic Children?

Autistic children are often offered a range of therapies as part of improving their verbal communication, emotional regulation, and social interactions, but recently a growing number of families are choosing to pursue music therapy. Why music? Unlike the narrow focus of most other modalities, music therapy has proven helpful for people with a variety of conditions – not just autism, but also brain injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and even chronic pain and substance abuse. For children with autism, though, music therapy represents an ideal way to practice multiple different skills in ways other therapies can’t.

Speech Meets Singing

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are one of the primary types of clinician involved in supporting autistic children. Some have expressive language delays that primarily reflect a difficulty producing speech, while others struggle with apraxia of speech, which is a mechanical problem. While SLPs aren’t usually music therapists, some SLPs use singing to connect with autistic students. Songs offer an ideal way of practicing language by offering a simplified framework, encourage taking turns through call and response, and they are structured around repetition, which can be soothing for many autistic children. Singing can also lead to an indirect increase in speech comprehension.

Emotional Management

Another reason that there’s a growing demand for music therapy, both with autistic children and adults and in other healthcare settings, is because music therapy has been shown to help with identification and expression of emotions. This is a common issue for those with mental health issues and various neurological conditions, as well. Since emotional dysregulation is one of the major sources of distress in autistic individuals – and therefore of disruptive or problematic behaviors, including self-injurious behaviors – music therapy can help reduce those behaviors by providing a flexible coping skill. And, as opposed to applied behavior analysis (ABA), another popular but controversial autism therapy, which tends to focus on punishment for undesirable behaviors, music therapy is behavior neutral.

Coordination And Sensory Integration

While autism is often described as a communication or social disorder, it’s actually a pervasive developmental issue, and among the common issues seen in autistic children are poor coordination and difficulty with sensory integration – and music therapy can help with both. For example, since music therapy includes everything from singing and dancing to listening to and playing instruments, children involved in such programs have opportunities to experience different sounds and textures, participate in motor planning activities, and experiment with improvisation. Over time, this can help reduce coordination issues and improve the child’s ability to tolerate different sounds and sensations.

We all know that music can elicit strong emotions, encourage spontaneous movement, and is easily internalized; music can even reshape the brains of talented musicians, like the violinist whose sensory cortex is reshaped around the instrument’s fingerings. When we consider those facts, it should then come as no surprise that singing, dancing, and playing music on a regular basis can help autistic children overcome developmental challenges. Whether they’re coordinating their hands to clap or feet to jump, learning and articulating the words of a song, or taking turns in a call and response, music has a lot to recommend it as a therapeutic practice.

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